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Archuleta County Courthouse ‘unhealthy,’ report concludes

Environmental firm recommends against reoccupying building

The Archuleta County Courthouse in Pagosa Springs is hazardous to public health and unsuitable for judicial employees, according to an air-quality assessment released Tuesday.

The report, by A.G. Wassenaar, found deficient ventilation and recommended that employees who vacated the building in September avoid returning to the courthouse. A.G. Wassenaar is a Denver-based environmental consultant.

“Conditions observed and experienced in the Clerk’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office/jail indicate a building that is not maintained, and in our opinion, is unhealthy,” the report concludes. “... AGW recommends that the state courts not reoccupy the building.”

Tuesday’s report is likely to confirm suspicions of many employees who complained of headaches, eye irritation, sinus issues, coughing, fatigue, fainting and more serious symptoms while occupying the courthouse. This year, two deputies passed out in the building and three deputies have been admitted to intensive-care units for unspecified symptoms.

Chief District Judge Jeffrey Wilson has suggested hydrogen sulfide seeping from the ground may be causing the health problems. Environmental testers smelled sulfur and musty odors in various parts of the courthouse, but hydrogen sulfide was not detected in the building during its assessment.

“I personally experienced a mild headache and dizziness while in this building,” the project manager wrote in his report.

Testers detected carbon dioxide at concentrations higher than the outdoors in some locations of the building. The higher indoor concentration is possibly related to gases originating from beneath the building, the report says. The report notes that the air sampling is considered short-term, and is applicable only to the date and time it was sampled.

“Based on AGW’s observations, it appears that the air quality and overall acceptability of the building environment changes based on the season, and possibly the underlying geological activity,” the report says.

Employees with the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office and the 6th Judicial District courts vacated the building in September for health concerns. Since then, both agencies have gone head-to-head with Archuleta County commissioners, who passed a resolution Oct. 13 saying the courthouse is safe for employees and the visiting public. Commissioners based their resolution on findings made in an air-quality test paid for by the county.

But many employees questioned the validity of those results and whether enough testing had been done. They decided to wait until another round of environmental testing could be completed by the Colorado Judicial Branch.

Those results were released Tuesday. A separate report, yet to be released, will detail what impact the building’s environmental conditions has on the health and well-being of people who work in the building.

Judge Wilson ordered court and probation offices closed Sept. 7 based on “credible, but not yet scientifically confirmed evidence of noxious substances” within the courthouse.

Since then, Archuleta County Court operations have been moved 60 miles west to La Plata County.

In a letter Tuesday to county commissioners, Chief District Judge Jeffrey Wilson said the 6th Judicial District court staff will not return to the Archuleta County Courthouse.

“The Archuleta County Courthouse is neither safe nor adequate, and the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners is either unwilling or unable to rectify the situation,” he wrote.

Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting and County Administrator Bentley Henderson declined to comment Tuesday about the report, saying they had not had time to digest the report or have a conversation about its findings.

The county, which is required to provide reasonable space for the sheriff’s office and judicial operations, refused to pay any expenses incurred by either agency if they chose alternative accommodations beyond Tuesday.

Citing the state’s open records act, the judge requested a copy of the county’s environmental test performed in September by Herron Enterprises USA, Inc.

“I would note that despite the 6th Judicial District’s obvious interest in the results of that testing, Archuleta County has not provided the 6th Judicial District a final report from Herron,” Wilson wrote.

The judge went on to remind the county of its obligation under state law to provide adequate facilities to conduct court business.

“I expect Archuleta County to comply with state law and I am therefore requesting that Archuleta County immediately begin to look for suitable temporary court facilities,” Wilson wrote.

Finally, the judge requested a response to his letter within 14 days – something he didn’t receive after writing a four-page letter Sept. 26 summarizing the health concerns and requesting a temporary location to conduct court and related judicial operations.

shane@durangoherald.com

An earlier version of this story erred in saying the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office will not return to the courthouse. Judge Jeffrey Wilson said the 6th Judicial District court staff will not return to the courthouse.

Archuleta Courthouse Report (PDF)

Feb 28, 2018
Archuleta County takes legal action against state judicial branch
Dec 22, 2017
Archuleta County commissioner seeks resolution to conflict over courthouse
Dec 20, 2017
Study: Return to Archuleta Courthouse ill-advised until problems fixed
Nov 17, 2017
Judge Wilson declines to use Archuleta County offices for court proceedings
Oct 13, 2017
Archuleta County commissioners: Courthouse not a health hazard
Oct 12, 2017
Is Archuleta County Courthouse safe to occupy?
Sep 29, 2017
Health threat shuts down court proceedings in Archuleta County


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