Unsuccessful efforts to rid its Blue Hen Corporate Center offices of mold has forced a state office to move.
Mold issues in offices leased by the Department of Health and Social Services has sickened several employees and forced the relocation of the facility from the Blue Hen Corporate Center.
Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 1, the state’s Division of Child Support Services will operate out of newly leased offices at 905 S. Governors Ave., Department of Health and Social Services communications director Jill Fredel said Friday.
First discovered in 2016, numerous efforts to eradicate the fungus have failed, she said.
Fredel confirmed some of the 25 permanent and temporary personnel in the office had suffered ill effects from the mold.
“The Division of Child Support Services has three employees out of the office on medical leave due to symptoms reportedly related to the air quality and mold issues in their Blue Hen Corporate Center offices,” she wrote in an email. “Four other staff members have medical documentation of missing time sporadically.”
Other members of the staff also reported symptoms related to the mold and air quality problems, Fredel said.
Although he heard anecdotal evidence of possible problems at the BHCC, Dover City Planner Dave Hugg said city inspectors had no documented record of conditions that could have caused a mold problem.
Environmental health issues, with the exception of rental housing, usually are not part of city inspection items for commercial buildings, he said.
When they first learned of the problem, facility management specialists from the state’s Office of Management and Budget were only partially successful in dealing with the mold, Fredel said.
With the fungal infestation continuing to crop up in the offices, the OMB next turned to Pettinaro Management LLC, which owns and manages the Blue Hen Corporate Center.
Some of the efforts to eradicate the mold included bringing in dehumidifiers, a complete scrubbing down of the offices by a commercial cleaning company and ordering new HVAC equipment.
They also were unsuccessful. The problem would lessen, then come back, Fredel said.
“They tried several different things, but it just wasn’t a good quality situation for our folks,” Fredel said.
“Based on the environment not improving, OMB reached out to Pettinaro and they reached an agreement they would release the state from the lease,” she said.
According to Robert Scogletti, director of Policy and External Affairs at OMB, the state was leasing the 6,969-square-foot office area at a cost of $113,455 annually.
The lease, signed in January 2015, was set to expire in December 2025, meaning Pettinaro stands to lose about $910,000, Scogletti said.
Scogletti said ending the lease arrangement was Pettinaro’s choice.
“They made a business decision in the best interests of all parties to terminate the lease, at no cost,” he said.
There have been no complaints from state employees in the other leased BHCC spaces, including the Department of Labor and the Division of Social Services, Scogletti said.
Announced in June 1966, the proposed Blue Hen Mall was designed as the largest shopping center on Delmarva south of the C&D Canal. Build on 91 acres just north of Dover Air Force Base. At the time it was owned by the JarDel company of Philadelphia.
The mall enjoyed considerable success over the next 15 years, but started to decline in 1982 as its anchor stores relocated to the new and larger Dover Mall.
Pettinaro bought the property in 2008, attempting to lease space to commercial firms throughout. In addition to the state’s leased office space, the 450,000-square-foot building is home to a charitable group and two small businesses, as well as an orthopedics and IT center for the Bayhealth Medical Center.
Some sections of the building, photographed July 10, appear to show water intrusion in several open or vacated areas. These include damaged ceiling tiles and buckets in the center area of the building which could be used to collect leaking water.
Several times during the past two weeks, the Dover Post tried to contact property owner Greg Pettinaro, but was told neither Pettinaro nor a spokesperson would be available in time to address questions about conditions at other offices inside the former mall building or at the Child Support Services offices.
Michael Metzing, vice president of Corporate Support Services for Bayhealth, said their facilities should not be affected by whatever issues led to mold in areas adjacent to its offices on the north end of the building.
“The health and safety of our employees, patients and their families is our number one priority at Bayhealth,” he said. “The areas that Bayhealth occupies within the Blue Hen Corporate Center were designed and renovated with this principle of health and safety in mind. We are confident there are no environmental issues in these areas.”
Spores found in half of areas tested
A report detailing the mold infestation was prepared for DHSS in November 2017 by Bear-based Harvard Engineering Inc. A month earlier, Harvard had checked several work stations, common areas and offices, collecting 12 air samples throughout as well as three more outside the DHSS offices.
The testing was done after equipment had been installed to control relative humidity inside the offices, according to the report.
Low to high levels of airborne mold spores were found in more than half of the 12 areas.
Although several types of spores were found throughout the child support division, those of the Cladosporium genus were the most common. According to the Harvard report, these molds are the most frequently found fungi in outside air, but also can be found in high concentrations in water-damaged building materials.
A common mold, Cladosporium can trigger asthma and allergies in some people.
One other office had high concentrations of the Aspergillus genus, which can be found in soil, compost piles and decaying vegetation, but also in buildings showing water damage. These fungi are known to cause various types of lung infections.
Scogletti said the Division of Child Support Services’ new offices on South Governors Avenue will be a little more than 1,100 square feet larger than the Blue Hen offices.
The state’s lease for the 48-year-old building is with Kay McWood LLC. The state also leases space there for the Delaware Commissioner of Elections office.
According to the contract with DHSS, there will be 25 parking spaces for staff and 15 for customers.
The building is on DART First State’s Route 104.
The 10-year lease will run through July 2028, with the state getting free rent through October 2018.
Between November and July 2019, the state will pay about $10,227.50 a month. After that the price goes up steadily. During the contract’s last 12 months, from Aug. 1, 2027 through July 31, 2028, the rent will be $12,222.71 per month.