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Mould problem discovered at Sydney courthouse basement

Sep 17, 2023Sep 17, 2023


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SYDNEY, N.S. — While work continues to repair damages left behind after a flood in February, the Sydney Justice Centre is now the focus of yet another remediation project.

The discovery of mould in the basement of the building has resulted in the hiring of a consultant to prepare a report on how best to remediate the problem.

The issue is raising concerns among staff who work in the building along with members of the public. The Sydney facility is the second busiest court district in the province after the capital region.

Hugh Gillis, first vice president of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union representing workers at the site, said the union has requested air quality testing on all five floors of the Charlotte Street building but has yet to receive a response from the provincial justice department.

He said the union was advised of the problem in mid-July and has been waiting for a response from the department concerning building-wide testing.

“There has been no movement on testing but we will continue to keep the pressure on,” said Gillis, adding that the Fire Marshal’s office has recommended that no one should be working in the basement area unless outfitted with proper equipment such as a breathing apparatus.

Gillis said the union has advised its members that if anyone is asked to work in an area they consider unsafe, they should advise their supervisor of their concerns and refer to the provisions of the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act.

There are regulations in the act that allow for workers to refuse work on health and safety grounds.

“People should never be bullied into doing something unsafe,” said Gillis, adding workers with issues should not be afraid to express their concerns.

Andrew Preeper, spokesperson for the provincial justice department, offered the following comment.

“The health and safety of those who work and visit our justice centres is a top priority. In mid-June, mould was discovered in an area of the basement in the building that houses the Sydney Justice Centre. The building’s owner has hired a contractor to address the situation and there is no risk to those in the building from this work. There is no impact to court operations.”

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Staff at the facility have been told that the mould is not connected to the flood that occurred in February. It is believed a small leak in a ceiling pipe had gone undetected and when combined with July’s high humidity levels, created ideal growing conditions for mould.

The basement of the facility was undergoing a remodel prior to the flood and such work had to be repeated as a result of the water damage.

The bottom floor is the location of the prisoner cell area along with offices for sheriff deputies.

Staff have also been informed that the lower level also has its own air circulating system along with another separate system for the cell area. The floors above are serviced by another separate circulating system which department managers say means that mould will not be circulated throughout the building.

The air circulation system in the sheriff department was inspected and repairs were noted, including the ordering of a new part which is expected to be installed soon.

There are now industrial dehumidifiers being used in the basement to deal with the humidity.

The building was extensively flooded in February when a pipe burst on the third floor over a weekend sending water rushing down the walls and ceilings to the basement.

As that remediation effort continues, the second floor remains closed to staff and the public.

Provincial court offices are now located on the fourth floor with courtrooms being used on the third, fourth and fifth floors.

The building is owned by R&H Reit — a Toronto investment firm — which, according to a spokesperson, does not make public comment.

The presence of mould is common in homes and buildings and where there is moisture, there will likely be mould.

It can develop on paper and cardboard along with wood products, ceiling tiles, carpet, and wallpaper.

Spores can find a way into a building through open doorways, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems.

Large mould outbreaks can usually be seen or smelled and depending on individual’s sensitivity, can cause a health reaction or not.

Such reactions could include stuffy nose, wheezing, along with red or itchy eyes, or skin.