Chester council OKs more testing at Finley

CHESTER -- The city of Chester will pay for more environmental tests on the embattled S.L. Finley Center after one city councilman expressed dissatisfaction with a recent report that says the building should remain closed because of mold problems.

At a special meeting Thursday evening, Councilman Odell Williams said he questioned the validity of a report council members received this week about the environmental conditions of the roughly 50-year-old center that anchors the East Chester community.

The report said that some airborne mold spores had grown by as much as 2,300 percent since January and could affect individuals, particularly children and the elderly.

The study was done after city leaders chose to close the building June 11, when they received a report from a January study in which environmental inspectors found mold on both floors and in the auditorium.

A company representative said then the gym and offices weren't contaminated, but other areas of the building could pose a liability to the city if someone got sick from being there.

The latest report indicates that those areas now aren't safe and "there should be no activity in the Finley building except by essential personnel." The report also said that employees who do enter the building for an extended time should wear a protective mask if they are allergic to certain types of mold.

Despite the report, Williams, who earlier this month cast the lone vote opposing the closing of the Finley center, remains skeptical.

At Thursday's meeting, he said the report didn't satisfy him and asked that another company evaluate the building. Councilwoman Annie Reid also inquired about an additional test. Councilman George Caldwell said a nonprofit group is interested in acquiring the building from the city to restore the center.

Williams said that group, the S.L. Finley Restoration Association, could acquire the property or work with the city to fix the building.

The city leases the building from the Chester County school district. Mayor Mitch Foster said voiding the city's lease so the group could acquire the property would take six months.

"Whatever is necessary," Williams said.

The council decided to pursue additional tests from another agency.

More than 50 people filled the council chambers and spilled into the main hallway. Many wore blue Finley-themed T-shirts.

Williams, who chairs the Finley restoration group, is among residents who believe there is an underground movement to permanently shut down the Caldwell Street building that was once the city's all-black high school and housed the city's recreation department until it was closed because of mold.

The center offered young people a place to play indoor basketball without a charge, and it was occasionally rented out for private parties. Nearly 40 people also paid for memberships that allowed them to use the gym and workout area.

After the meeting, Williams said he found it convenient that the latest report shows the areas of Finley that had once been deemed safe now showed the opposite.

While he acknowledged that another report would likely turn up contamination, he doesn't think it will be as damning.