Company specializing in air quality issues to investigate mold concerns in Adams County Courthouse during January visit

Grootens looks at old jail

Adams County Sheriff Tony Grootens looks at the heating and air conditioning system Tuesday morning while standing in what was the holding area in the old Adams County Jail inside the Adams County Courthouse. | David Adam

QUINCY — Adams County Sheriff Tony Grootens says a Chicago-area company will conduct tests at the Adams County Courthouse next month to investigate complaints of mold throughout the building.

Grootens, whose first day on the job was Dec. 1, said he didn’t learn of mold concerns in the 77,000-square-foot building until Friday, Dec. 16.

“I was completely unaware of this going on,” Grootens said Tuesday morning.

Larry Schwartz is the chief executive officer of Safestart Environmental, a Buffalo Grove company that helps clients detect, correct and prevent indoor air quality issues. He said his employees will analyze floor plans, put together a plan of action, figure a cost and get the county’s approval before making the trip to Quincy.

“It’s hard to say, but if I had to guess a ballpark, I would say it’s conceivable that we could be spending a week there. Maybe less, maybe a little more,” Schwartz said.

He said if Safestart has access to areas that need to be tested, he doesn’t believe shutting down the courthouse will be necessary during his company’s visit.

“Right now, (the courthouse) is operating status quo,” Schwartz said. “We’ll have to make that determination. I don’t have a real answer yet. We may be sending questionnaires to employees to help make that decision.”

Grootens expects cost to exceed $100,000

Grootens expects the cost of the testing to be “over $100,000.”

“I have an obligation to the people who work here and people who visit here to make sure they’re in a safe environment,” Grootens said. “I know it’s going to cost a lot of money, but I can’t help that. We have to err on the side of caution. I don’t want people getting sick because they’re coming to the courthouse. Nobody wants that.

“We take it pretty seriously, and the reason I do is I know people get sick. If it’s caused by mold, we have to do something about it. We’re obligated.”

Kent Snider, chairman of the Adams County Board, said state statutes say the sheriff in each county is “the keeper of the courthouse.”

“Has it ever been that way before? No. We’re really not used to that,” Snider said. “I’m used to handling the maintenance part by default because I was the building and grounds (committee) chair. But Tony was there before, and he knows that job falls on the sheriff.”

Snider learned of problems after phone call from city attorney

Snider said he first learned of possible mold issues throughout the courthouse and the former Adams County Jail in a phone call last month from Ryan Schnack, a chief prosecutor and attorney for the City of Quincy.

“(Schnack) told me that he’d had some (mold) samples taken, and he’s highly allergic and so forth, and he asked me to check into it,” Snider said. “The next morning, I got a hold of Jerrod Welch (public health administrator at the Adams County Health Department). He came down with his crew, and they looked around.”

However, Welch said the health department doesn’t test for mold.

“We just do some general guidance, but we don’t have a mold expert,” he said. “When (Snider) first got that complaint, I think the county asked us to come over and talk with them and look at some of the things they were concerned about. All we did is say you probably need to get somebody who’s certified in mold and let them kind of counsel. We really didn’t do much.”

Schnack, Henze told committee about health concerns

Schnack and Holly Henze, an associate circuit court judge in Adams County, spoke to the Transportation, Building & Technology Committee during its Dec. 13 meeting. The meeting was not recorded, and the committee will vote on approving the minutes during its January meeting. However, a redacted version of the minutes was provided to Muddy River News, which had requested a copy through the Freedom of Information Act.

The minutes said:

“Ryan Schnack spoke to the committee by telephone about possible mold issues in the courthouse and jail, and that he is willing to pay to have it checked out. Judge Henze also spoke to the committee about concerns she has. Kent Snider informed the committee that Terry Bower is already looking into it. Terry Bower informed the committee that he is having testing done and that duct cleaning starts tomorrow.”

Schnack and Henze have denied interview requests from Muddy River News.

The jail on the third floor of the courthouse has sat empty since the Adams County Sheriff’s Department and inmates moved into a $32 million facility at Sixth and Vermont in May and June of 2020.

The county hired SERVPRO, which specializes in the cleanup and restoration of damage to residential and commercial property, on Dec. 14 to begin cleaning. However, Grootens told SERVPRO on Monday to stop its work.

“(SERVPRO) found a couple of spots where they thought there might be something,” Snider said. “They were just going to come in and see if that sufficed. Then Tony said no, (Safestart) wants to come down before they do any cleaning. So, we’ll have the testing done, and then we’ll do the cleaning.”

“We need a professional company to come in here,” Grootens said.

Courthouse to stay open when Safestart does testing

He said he must send blueprints of the courthouse and the jail to Safestart so a plan can be formulated. Grootens said the recommendation to hire Safestart came from one of Schnack’s doctors.

“They’re a pretty good company,” Grootens said. “They’re like No. 1 in the nation, but there’s not very many of them around. (Safestart) said we should not do anything until they get down here because they’re going to do it all. SERVPRO is limited on what they can do. SERVPRO could certainly do the cleaning afterwards, and I’m sure they probably will, but this company has to come first. I wanted to test everything from the city side all the way over to the new jail.”

Grootens said the courthouse will remain open while Safestart does its testing.

“It shouldn’t be an issue,” he said. “Now, if it goes back and we have positive tests for bad mold all over the building, then we’re going to have to rethink this. I really don’t want to shut the courthouse down.”

A similar situation happened in 2003 at City Hall when a city employee asked that the U.S. Department of Labor check air quality.

Specialists determined a heating unit in the police department needed to be replaced, and two other heating units in the building were found with similar problems. The Illinois Department of Labor ordered the cleanup and insisted that carpet, wallpaper and plaster imbedded with mold or mildew be removed.

Original estimates placed the cost for repairs/replacement at $80,000, but that cost eventually rose to $350,000 for the city.

Safestart CEO: ‘We need to analyze the data’

Schwartz said Schnack was the “primary person” who first contacted Safestart and presented issues and concerns for the building and the people working inside.

“At that point, we were not at a point of saying, ‘We need to come do this,’” Schwartz said. 

He said a physical inspection will be conducted, using instruments that measure various levels and types of contamination and other instruments to find areas where active water or moisture shouldn’t be. Tests also will be conducted of the air in the building and dust on surfaces.

“We need to analyze the data given to us,” Schwartz said. “We need to get data to review and put together a plan of what we’re going to do, where we’re going to do it, how we’re going to do it, what’s the information we’re going to get that’s useful, put together a plan as needed for how to correct causes and how to properly remediate for the issues involved. 

“I mean, it’s not a simple thing. It’s not like, they tell us about this and we say, ‘Yeah, we should come down.’ We’re not trying to sell anyone on this. They’re selling us on the need for our help.”

A look down one of the hallways in the old Adams County Jail. | David Adam

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