Mold, structural problems prompt Surfside Beach officials to look at relocating town offices

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SURFSIDE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Surfside Beach officials are in negotiations to buy a building near the current town hall with the intent of relocating municipal offices that have been found to contain airborne mold spores and are also in need of other costly structural repairs.

The city entered the talks after testing by Phoenix EnviroCorp, an environmental services company, found mold spores throughout the city’s building and a structural engineer recommended either demolishing the existing facilities and rebuilding them or moving offices to a new location, officials said.

The purchase of the former Coldwell Banker property, located at 210 Highway 17 Business, is expected to be on the agenda for the next town council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. It is across Highway 17 Business, about a quarter-mile from the town’s current offices at 115 Highway 17 Business, and has more than 10,000 square feet of office space. The listed sale price is $1.2 million.

During a presentation at a special town council meeting Tuesday morning before council members discussed the purchase in an executive session, administrator Bill Shanahan said the town started getting complaints about a “moldy smell” from employees last November. In addition, a black substance was found inside the courthouse, and some employees “complained about getting headaches when they went in some of the facilities,” he said.

The town subsequently hired Phoenix EnviroCorp to evaluate the buildings and test air samples. Shanahan said those tests found airborne mold spores in the town hall, the courthouse, the planning and zoning building and the civic center.

“The mold company, Phoenix, basically directed us that before we do any implementation of mold remediation that we need to find out why we had the mold,” Shanahan said. “We needed to find out what was causing it, where the leaks, the moisture, the humidity issues were.

“Because we did this in the past. We paid somewhere around the $50,000 mark, and we cleaned the mold up and we’re back to where we started from, if not worse, because we didn’t fix why the mold was there.”

According to Shanahan, part of the problem was the result of leakage around where the town hall and town council chambers are connected. It was also not properly maintained through the years, he said.

In the courthouse, Shanahan said testing showed surface mold, elevated moisture readings, and high relative humidity levels. Exterior mold was due to moisture and air infiltration coming from the building via the siding and the slab, he said.

Airborne mold spores were also found in the police department, but those were mostly found in files and documents and caused by an air-conditioning problem that would take about $10,000 to fix, Shanahan said.

Shanahan said the structural engineer recommended replacing or moving to a new location after identifying a long list of repairs that would cost more than 50% of the value of the property.

“The repair cost is expected to be well over $1.5 million for the issues that we know about, Shanahan said. “This does not include the issues we’re going to find based on lack of maintenance, bad workmanship and other structural issues. It doesn’t include any problems that might be found when we open up the walls during demolition.

It also does not include the cost of cleaning the mold or more than $250,000 to replace the roof of the civic center, he said.

The total cost to demolish and rebuild new offices at the current location would likely exceed $6 million and take up to two years to complete, meaning the town would also have to pay for the cost of temporary workspace for employees. There are also concerns about whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency would allow the work to be done because the property is located in a flood zone.

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