Chester considers fumigating Finley Center

CHESTER -- Chester leaders have changed their minds about paying for additional environmental tests on the S.L. Finley Center and have instead decided to use that money for repairs and the possible fumigation of the building.

The facility will remain closed like it has since June 11, when leaders received a report from a January study in which environmental inspectors found mold on both floors and in the auditorium of the roughly 50-year-old building.

After a second test last month showed some airborne mold spores had grown by as much as 2,300 percent and could pose a public health risk, the City Council decided to fund a third study.

Councilman Odell Williams said then that the second report didn't satisfy him and more tests by a different company would show the center that anchors East Chester wasn't in such bad shape.

But this week, other leaders said Williams told them that his constituents felt that additional tests likely would produce similar results to those he questioned. He could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Mitch Foster said Tuesday that he had talked to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and learned about a fumigation process used to eradicate mold in Gulf Coast homes after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

He said the city needs to explore such options to restore the building, which housed the recreation department until it was closed. Foster hopes the leaky roof can be mended and the mold destroyed.

The mayor said he is "fairly confident" that a third test would have produced results similar to the other tests, which is why he supported the decision to use the money differently.

"I thought it would have been money unjustly spent," he said.

On June 11, a representative from the company that performed the tests said 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.

Once the city's all-black high school, the center offered young people a place to play indoor basketball without a charge and was occasionally rented out for private parties. Nearly 40 people also paid for memberships that allowed them to use the gym and workout area.

Councilwoman Annie Reid said she hopes part of the building can be treated and reopened while other work is done. With the emotions about the building calmed, Reid hopes solutions will be discovered.

"Now the community has said that they would prefer to use the money toward the cleanup of the building, which is fine," she said. "And I think that we probably just needed to do some more exploration and find some other avenues to correct the problem. I just don't want the building torn down just because they say there's mold in there."