Mouldy office open day denied

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Health and safety rules have thwarted a bid to convince skeptical ratepayers that the council's civic offices were not fit for human habitation.

The council voted 8-3 to defeat a bid to hold an open day to allow people to view the empty interiors of the leaky offices, subject to a safety assessment.

Councillor Rick Curach wanted the open day to be held during the first week of public consultation on the proposed civic heart development that included a new $64.3 million civic administration building.

He suggested that people could wear masks and possibly other safety clothing for the 15 to 20 minute tour.

The buildings were emptied after a council staff member fell sick in 2014 and the cause of the illness was traced to the discovery of toxic black mould.

Mr Curach told the Bay of Plenty Times after Wednesday's meeting that some people were skeptical about the need for a new office building. An open day might satisfy their concerns.

He suspected that with proper health safeguards like masks, people could be taken on a short tour. "Hundreds of people used to work in that environment for many, many years."

Cr Curach believed there would be very minimal risk to health, particularly because the mould had been cleaned up.

Councillor Rick Curach outside the largely empty civic buildings since the discovery of toxic mould. Photo/Andrew Warner
Councillor Rick Curach outside the largely empty civic buildings since the discovery of toxic mould. Photo/Andrew Warner

The interiors which showed walls with water marks and leaks around joinery would help convince people about the need to replace most of the buildings.

However he was not convinced about demolishing the newer wing of the civic offices that fronted the library. "It is a lot more modern."

Council chief executive Garry Poole told the meeting that they did not want to knowingly put people into the buildings unless they absolutely had to be there.

"Stachybotrys (black mould) and humans are not a good match."

He said in an environment where stachybotrys was present, some staff had no symptoms while others came down with symptoms in an hour.

"No one would knowingly enter into such an environment."

The council was working through residual health issues with staff that had been in that environment for a number of years, Mr Poole said.

Councillor John Robson said if people believed there was a conspiracy to knock down the buildings and create a palace for staff, a tour would not change their views.

The information was already available in documents on the council's website. The issues were not all related to mould and included seismic risks and the state of the services, he said.

Legal advice was that under current health and safety legislation, the council would be taking quite a risk to invite people to enter the buildings even with protective clothing.

An alternative suggestion that Cr Curach suit up and shoot a video of the interiors received a lot of support. The video would be put on the council's website.

"We cannot deny the public the right to view the problem," he said. Councillor Catherine Stewart said if there was a safe way people could view the buildings, she would support it.

Backing Cr Curach were councillors Steve Morris and Catherine Stewart. Opposing were Mayor Stuart Crosby and councillors Matt Cowley, Leanne Brown, Kelvin Clout, Bev Edlin, Bill Grainger, Gail McIntosh and John Robson.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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