Univ. City police: City waited too long to address health concerns at headquarters

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UNIVERSITY CITY, MO (KPLR) - University City has selected a temporary location to act as headquarters for its officers, but staffers inside the condemned police department building believe those efforts are too little, too late. Some insist the city should have tackled health problems a few years ago.

“I signed up because I thought this was an honorable thing to do. I thought that those above me cared. I’m finding that is not the case,” said a longtime worker who wished to remain anonymous. The worker is concerned about the potential effects conditions might have posed to her health.

The police department annex was condemned February 16. The condemnation order states the annex “is a building with unsafe equipment, a structure unfit for human occupancy, and a dangerous structure.”

City Manager Lehman Walker told Fox 2 that for several years, the building – which is 113-years old – has undergone extensive maintenance repairs with walls, pipes, air filters, and the roof. But Walker said it wasn’t until recent months that the city was made aware of more pressing health issues.

“I think that is a fair statement,” he said. “As soon as we became aware of health issues, we began to act immediately.”

The city is spending nearly $500,000 alone on tuckpointing to address the mold and mildew problems listed in the condemnation order. The order also found leaking pipes asbestos-wrapped, with “steam leaking through the asbestos and into the air of the police annex.”

SSM Health St. Louis University pulmonologist Dr. David Stoeckel said asbestos can be a safe substance if it is not in an aerosolized form that can be inhaled.

“But once it’s aerosolized and you inhale it, you certainly then—over years—can develop problems with mesothelioma, lung disease, or other sorts of pleural diseases,” he said.

Walker said the asbestos it is now contained, but that it is unclear whether individuals were put at risk. The uncertainty does not sit well with the staff, who continually report to work inside the condemned building.

“I can’t even put words on it. And given my service, have I compromised my life? Are my fellow workers being compromised?” one worker asked.

City management insists efforts are being made to ensure police officers are housed in a safe environment. But pictures and documents provided by various sources seem to tell another story. Photos of a third floor office dating back to 2010 show cracked walls, mold, and mildew.

The city was presented a 2009 mold study when the fire department shared the building. The report represents documented example of knowledge of issues in the building.

University City Councilmember Terry Crow said the environmental and safety concerns inside the annex are not new information.

“We’ve known for several years that we needed to make changes to the building. And we needed to address some of the issues within the building, clearly,” he said.

Crow said he and Councilwoman Paulette Carr initiated the move for a least $500,000 for improvements and remediation.

“Two years ago, maybe even three years ago,” he said. “I think that this is an embarrassment for all of us,” Crow added. “We have a fine police force, and they’re very dedicated. And now we’ve got a situation where we need to. We have not done our part to give them a safe working environment, and we need to.”

All told, the city council has allocated $2.5 million for renovations to the building.

“We are doing everything we can to address the problems,” the city manager said.

In the meantime, the city is in the process of finalizing a lease on a lot behind the existing police building. That lot will be where the city will locate modular units to temporarily relocate the 100 staffers who work inside the annex. It could take 30 to 90 days to construct the units, Walker said.

The units could be used for two to three years while a new facility is constructed. The city is in the process of identifying specific sites for a new location.

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