Zanni Takes Steps to Clear the Air at Methuen City Hall

Methuen City Hall.

Methuen City Hall (Creative Commons).

While a study confirms there are no mold problems at Methuen City Hall, Mayor Stephen N. Zanni said he is taking steps to clear other air quality issues at the building, also known as the Searles (High School) Building.

A state indoor air quality report released last month recommends short-term building improvements, including cleaning, carpet replacement and installing new filters on an aging and reportedly “difficult to maintain” fan coil unit heating and cooling system, among other steps. The report was the result of a May 19 survey requested by Zanni after employees expressed cancer and other health concerns. Zanni told WHAV Monday a review will consider a new HVAC system, window replacement and other long-term improvements.

“The windows haven’t been touched since they have been here and there has to be some replacement with that as well. I’ll be looking at an assessment of the windows and the ventilation system over the next few months to get an idea of what the cost could be. And once I get that cost, I would have to present a bond to the city council. Because this is a historical building I don’t want to see it go any further in disrepair,” Zanni said.

Another option might be to reopen parts of the building’s original “gravity” ventilation system of wall and floor-mounted vents, closed off by wallboard during earlier building renovations. Zanni estimated such a project could cost the city “over a million dollars to do the entire city hall.” He added the building, despite other reports, does not have a mold issue and an old restroom area no longer in use will be permanently sealed off, as the report recommended.

“There is no mold at city hall which is a good thing, as the report bears out,” Zanni said. “In the basement level there we have one area which has been off limits for a number of years. That has to be sealed off and, actually, cemented. It’s actually outside the building but it will now be a section nobody can go in any longer,” Zanni said.

Air quality testing found levels for “fine particulate matter,” temperature, humidity and other conditions were “within” or “below” recommended guidelines in “all assessed areas,” according to the report. Carbon dioxide levels were found “below 800 parts per million in all areas assessed, except for some Auditing Department areas.”

“Although most windows were originally designed to be openable, they are in poor condition. Many are stuck closed or are not able to remain open since the sash cord connecting the sash to the window counterweights is broken. Other windows have been sealed with plastic to prevent drafts. Because of the condition of the windows, many areas in the (Methuen City Hall) do not have any source of fresh air,” a statement reads.

“Even if an HVAC system is operating as designed, point sources of respiratory irritants may be present and produce symptoms in sensitive individuals,” the report added.