After torrential rains earlier this month caused significant damage to the ground floor of the Joe Thomas Public Safety Building, Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said it’s time to start a discussion about moving the police and fire departments out of the building.

Sergeant made the statement during a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee held this week.

This was the second time in less than a year that heavy rain caused flooding to the building. In September 2018, an estimated five to six inches of rain over a short period of time caused flooding in the former jail area of the building, which had been renovated over a two-year period and houses the service and patrol Divisions.

This time around, Sergeant said black mold was discovered when cleanup efforts began, resulting in the department making the decision to vacate the offices on the ground floor. The Service Division relocated to the second floor, while the Patrol Division moved back to the old National Guard Armory on Myrtle Street.

That building also houses the department’s Training Division and the Crime Lab.

Black mold can release harmful toxins called mycotoxins and eventually lead to mold poisoning. The symptoms of black mold poisoning can appear similar to those of an upper respiratory tract infection, such as the flu or common cold. People with other health conditions or a weakened immune system may experience more severe symptoms.

Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said his department was fortunate that their ground floor is all concrete, so water damage was essentially limited to equipment, which might have to be replaced if it cannot be repaired.

Sergeant said department officials consulted an expert who estimated that the cost to remove the black mold would be in the area of $100,000 if he did the work. However, the expert said he could give department officials guidance on what they could do on their own, then come in afterward and deal with the mold.

That guidance would include the removal of desks and equipment, then cutting the sheetrock walls down to the insulation, which Sergeant said is still soaking wet.

Howell also expressed concern about mold traveling through the air conditioning system, which both departments share, and reaching the second floor. There, sleeping quarters are located for firefighters assigned to Station 1.

Committee Chairman Council Member Win Trafford said he was concerned about officers doing the removal work because of the potential dangers of exposure to the black mold.

“Time is of the essence,” Sergeant said. “Every day, the mold increases.”

Trafford told Sergeant, who had previously said that he had talked to the city’s insurance adjuster about covering the costs, to seek bids on getting the work done.

“I don’t want our officers cutting anything,” Trafford said. “We will waive competitive bidding if we have to.”