A mold outbreak at the Burgess Center located at 200 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown hospitalized two staff members of state Rep. Rosita Youngblood’s district office this past fall. The office was closed for nearly two months.
Legislative assistant Antoinette Arter was exposed to the mold for 40 hours a week over a span of two years. After weeks of sneezing, itchy eyes and bad colds, her condition turned serious. She was sent to the hospital after having trouble breathing. She says the doctors told her she had mold in her lungs and gave her anti-fungal medication.
What’s worse, Youngblood doesn’t believe the mold is gone and is concerned about other tenants in the building from which she has since fled.
“It was not a pleasant experience,” she said. “I was pretty surprised, I had no idea. … I mean, if you started to rent at a property, that’s something you should know.”
Response and relocations
Employees say they were temporarily moved to a second office within the Burgess Center, the old Germantown Settlement offices, but that too was contaminated with mold. The district office was recently relocated across the street at 243 W. Chelten Ave. For eight legislative weeks during last session, they worked from their respective homes.
A mother of three, Arter says its been difficult but that it bothered her even more that she was given the cold shoulder from the building owners.
“He didn’t so much as send us a ‘get well’ card,” she said of the property manager Richard Shaeffer. Legislative Assistant Dayne Cofer was also hospitalized for mold in his lungs.
Youngblood said the mold issue put her staff at unnecessary risk, and that the five-member staff had to be tested for mold in their system. An early warning sign of the mold was a stream of fungus gnats coming from the ceiling. She initially thought they were mosquitos because they were biting her.
Extensive water damage
Bill Thomas, who serves as executive director of the Gaming Oversight Committee for Youngblood, said the debacle meant they had to trash all fabric furniture, boxes of informational pamphlets and paper copies of constituent files for which they also had electronic versions.
Many in the building say increased mold growth resulted from extensive water damage in the building.
After Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in early September, legislative assistant Arter recalled that the district office flooded. At one point, she says the water was a few inches deep.
“We were going to work in rain boots. That whole center was a mess,” she said, describing flooding at Temptations Gourmet Restaurant and water damage from roof leaks at the Germantown EARN Center.
In 2010 Licenses and Inspections violations revealed violation orders to repair the EARN Center roof in citing habitability concerns, but the roof was fixed within the year. But the center has since moved out of the Burgess Center.
Testing for mold
The current owner of the Burgess Center is Germantown Realty Investment Group, and is jointly managed by OYR Realty Group LLC and Stonehenge Advisors Inc. Shaeffer, Facility Manager of OYR refused to discuss the situation over the phone last week.
In an emailed response to questions about the nature of the incident and whether other units in the building have been tested for mold, Shaeffer stated, “Our position is that this has been resolved and we have no further comment.”
Employees say Shaeffer hired RT Environmental Services to inspect the mold and remove it. Arter, who witnessed the visit, says they discovered a second hidden wall which was covered in mold. She said they explained that if anything bumped or scraped the wall, it would release mold spores into the environment.
Josh Hagadorn, a representative of RT Environmental Services, who staff say conducted the testing and remediation, could not be reached for comment. Despite repeated requests, NewsWorks wasn’t able to reach Gary Brown, President of the company, either.
Spreading to other units
Other Burgess Center tenants say they’ve seen mold in other parts of the building. The Cricket Wireless cell phone store manager, Osman Ajmal, said that when the store opened under new management three months ago, white fungus was growing in the bathroom, an employee breakroom and anywhere water damage was present.
“When we got here, it was really nasty,” he said explaining that they bleached the areas and haven’t seen any re-growth. Current employees at the cell phone store say they witnessed gnats flying out of the ceiling tile in the break room but that with the changing seasons there have been fewer so far. (Gnats were present during a reporter’s recent visit to the site.)
However, managers at H&R Block, Victor’s Tavern, John La’s Nail Salon and Gennaro’s Famous Pizza all said none of their employees got sick and that they haven’t noticed any mold in their business.