Hospital plans to cure 'sick building' and convert it for doctors' offices CARROLL COUNTY HEALTH

June 01, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Carroll County General Hospital officials know that the county health department building they're trying to acquire has a chronic case of "sick building syndrome."

But they say they'll cure the 15-year-old, two-story structure that adjoins the hospital. Hospital officials plan to convert the building for outpatient surgery or doctors' offices.

The hospital has been negotiating with the county to buy the health department building or exchange hospital-owned property for it.

The county commissioners are willing to sell "to accommodate the hospital," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

But they might not be able to take cash.

State law generally requires the county government to sell property at public auction. County Attorney Charles W. Thompson said one exception to that law is a property exchange between the county and a private owner.

"Our position in the past has been that if the county is trading property, that does not require a public auction," Mr. Thompson said.

Complaints about the health department building began soon after the structure opened in March 1978.

Larry L. Leitch, the deputy county health officer, said employees' symptoms were typical of sick building syndrome: headaches, dizziness, upper-respiratory distress, occasional difficulty concentrating, and face and chest rashes. The nursing staff was most affected.

The county has tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to cure the building, Mr. Leitch said. Healthy Buildings International, a Fairfax, Va., consultant, tested air quality and sprayed a biocide to kill spores and bacteria growing in the ventilation system.

The tests and spraying continued for eight or nine years, Mr. Leitch said. The county halted air-quality tests several years ago, but continued the spraying.

"After all the years of work, all the testing, all the literally thousands of dollars that have been spent, we still have employees with sick building syndrome," Mr. Leitch said.

The county budget office was not able to provide information on the cost of the air-quality efforts late last week.

Mr. Leitch said employees' symptoms have never been traced to a single cause, but assessments by Healthy Buildings International indicate that some of the building's problems were "built in."

The building was designed to be airtight to conserve energy. A 1978 newspaper article reported that the heating system would cut fuel use by collecting occupants' body heat and recirculating it through the building.

A comprehensive assessment in 1990 by Healthy Buildings International concluded that a permanent solution would be expensive. The consultants did not give a cost estimate.

Other measures recommended by the consultants included letting more outside air into the building, adding a filtration system to prevent recirculation of gaseous pollutants, and an engineering study to find out how much moisture might have gotten into the building and been trapped because of roof leaks. Tom Bowers, county chief of building services, could not be reached late last week for information on whether the county followed the recommendations.

Mr. Leitch said county workers removed fiberglass insulating batts above the ceiling to prevent fibers from circulating in the ventilation system and put a brick sealant on the exterior wall near the nursing area to keep out moisture.

The hospital will "fix whatever problems exist in the core of the building," as part of renovations if it acquires the building, said Linda Harder, the hospital's vice president for marketing. She said the hospital does not yet have a detailed plan or renovation budget.

The commissioners plan to move the Health Department staff into portable offices that would be donated by Martin Marietta Corp. The portables would be placed on county land behind the Winchester Country Inn on South Center Street, Westminster.

Other portables would house the county school system administrative offices.

Project manager Thomas J. Rio estimates the cost of moving the donated units from Martin Marietta in Essex and getting them ready to occupy at $3.9 million.

Joseph P. Alcarese, vice president of Chesapeake Park Inc., Martin Marietta's real estate subsidiary, said the 10-year-old portables are valued at about $4 million. He said Martin Marietta, a major defense contractor, began consolidating following federal defense budget cuts and no longer needs the offices.

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