State deals with mold problems at Blue Hen Corporate Center

DOVER — Suspected mold in a state office in the Blue Hen Corporate Center prompted termination of $910,000 remaining in a lease with Pettinaro Management LLC, officials recently confirmed.

Concern surfaced last year. That’s when the state’s Facilities Management branch contacted the company about suspected mold in the Division of Child Support Services unit offices of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services at 655 S. Bay Road in south Dover, Office of Management and Budget spokesman Bert Scoglietti said Tuesday.

The 6,969-square-foot space was used for Child Support Services and involved a lease term from January 2015 to December 2025, according to the OMB.

“Pettinaro verbally agreed to terminate the lease in a June 8 discussion with Division of Facilities Management Director Mike Svaby,” Mr. Scoglietti said.

Mr. Scoglietti and Mr. Svaby said suspected mold was last observed late in the summer of 2017, and observed on backs of certain chairs, bookcases and under keyboards.

“We believe excessive humidity at certain times of the year is the cause,” they said in a joint response to emailed questions.

The ground floor office inside Suite 2J remains in use until a new location is found, officials said.

“In general, employees and visitors were not at risk for health conditions resulting from mold exposure,” the OMB said.

“Division of Public Health environmental assessors observed high humidity, which could contribute to mold growth and small amounts of mold on surfaces in the area. Public Health made recommendations to clean surfaces on which mold was observed, and to lower the humidity levels to reduce the chance of further mold growth.

“However, much like seasonal allergies, it’s difficult to predict what levels of mold could trigger a reaction or who might have a reaction.”

According to Mr. Scoglietti, Pettinaro “implemented recommended measures to eliminate any potential mold” by installing four dehumidifiers in September 2017 and having the entire suite was cleaned by Service Masters. The HVAC system was ”rebalanced” in December, Mr. Scoglietti said and “New HVAC units with dehumidification are on order.”

Despite the company’s response, Mr. Scoglietti said the “Facilities Management believes those measures have not completely addressed the situation.”

Thus, according to OMB, “Facilities Management and Pettinaro have jointly agreed that the best course of action at this time is to terminate the current lease obligation.”

Within the next 30 days, the state’s Facilities Management branch aims to “secure office space in the Dover area for the Child Support unit with the goal being to permanently relocate employees …” Mr. Scoglietti said.

On Tuesday, Pettinaro Chief Executive Officer Gregory Pettinaro said, “In general, employees and visitors were not at risk for health conditions resulting from mold exposure. Division of Public Health environmental assessors observed high humidity, which could contribute to mold growth and a small amounts of mold was found on a chair last fall.

“ … Since there is a potential problem we are letting the State out of the lease on the Child Support Enforcement Division space. The rest of the leases will remain as there (aren’t) any problems in the other spaces.

“We are primarily letting them out to be proactive on any problems. We are replacing all of the HVAC units with humidity controls in August. Hopefully we can get the State to move back in when this is complete.”

The OMB said the current annual rent for the Division of Child Support Services office in question is $113,455.32 annualy, which is $16.28 per square foot.

The state currently leases 25,367 square feet overall at the Blue Hen Corporate Center, and the unaffected office space will remain in place.

The state declined a Delaware State News request to take photos of the supposedly moldy areas “given that the offices are used for client interaction and out of privacy concerns.”

While the State of Delaware has leased space from Pettinaro for several years the OMB said “we are unable to locate the exact year the relationship commenced.”

In a letter dated April 2017, the Division of Facilities Management Pettinaro was notified of suspected issues “based on complaints heard from Child Support Enforcement staff and management in the previous few months,” the OMB said.”

The OMB said the state leases six locations each in Kent and New Castle counties, including the soon to be vacated Child Support Services space. Varying lease terms exist.

There have been no other issues involving Pettinaro and leased space, the OMB said.

According to the OMB, “The Division of Facilities Management has not previously had to terminate a lease arrangement due to issues attributable to the space.”

Pettinaro will remain a viable potential partner for lease options with the State.

“The State will continue to look to Pettinaro for potential partnership in providing leased space for State operations,” Mr. Scoglietti said.

The State considers “Location, size, availability, price, parking, accessibility to public transit,” as key factors in choosing a new site for the office, the OMB said.

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