Spartanburg County courthouse operations should be back to normal next week as mold remediation work wraps up and employees move back into their offices.
Clerk of Court Hope Blackley also said she learned Tuesday that no HVAC sealant containing potentially harmful chemicals was ever used. Concerns by some at the courthouse that the sealant would be used during cleanup work led county officials to shut down portions of the building and temporarily relocate staff.
The second floor of the courthouse was reopened Thursday afternoon as staff from the Clerk of Court's office and other employees began moving back. The 7th Circuit Solicitor's Office will begin moving in Friday and plans to reopen on the third floor by Monday. The solicitor's office had been working out of the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office, while second-floor employees had been relocated to the county's Emergency Operations Center on the first floor of the courthouse.
"Already started a slow move that will pick up dramatically tomorrow," said Murray Glenn, spokesman for the solicitor's office. "We're meeting our court obligations but it's not been easy. … There's a lot of things you don't think about: private meeting room space, office supplies, getting mail, telephones. There's a lot of intricacies involved."
It remains unclear what the financial impact may have been from temporarily relocating courthouse employees.
Most of the mold remediation work was nearing an end Thursday, but county officials continue to discuss long-term solutions for air quality issues in the 60-year-old building.
Meanwhile, newly obtained records show county officials did not send out a request for bids from various companies when an initial air quality study was conducted in March. While seeking bid proposals is standard practice for governments, county officials instead directly hired a company they had used before to perform air quality testing.
JMAC Environmental was hired to conduct the "emergency comprehensive indoor air quality investigation" at a cost of $44,180, later amended to $53,450 after the work was completed.
The tests showed the presence of mold in various parts of the courthouse, and short-term cleanup plans were made. Remediation work began over the summer.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Deputy County Administrator Jim Hipp said the county felt it appropriate to solely reach out to JMAC for the work because of the "familiarity and a desire of the county to maintain the same testing standards, coupled with the county's desire to expedite the comprehensive indoor air quality investigation."
He referenced a section of the Spartanburg County Procurement Code that allows for sole sources in emergency situations.
"This is a comprehensive indoor air quality investigation of the Spartanburg County Courthouse to ensure that testing gets done in a timely manner for Spartanburg County. JMAC was chosen for this task because of the past reports they have done for the county and we needed to keep the same standards," a procurement form signed by Hipp states.
Blackley said she made the county aware of the building's mold issues back in 2014, after her staff and judges repeatedly expressed concerns.
"At that point, it could have been an emergency, but nobody did anything," Blackley said.
Blackley said the results of the air quality study done by JMAC showed the problem was less serious than what the results showed in a separate study she had another company conduct with her own discretionary funds.
She said some inside the courthouse have doubts about JMAC, but said "it is what it is" when asked whether the county should have sought bids from other companies despite the urgency.
"I had my own office tested a couple weeks ago and paid for it out of my personal account. I wanted to see the difference and if there was a difference," Blackley said. "I know there have been multiple conversations made to me from occupants working in the courthouse not having faith in JMAC."
Blackley said her priority is the safety of those who work inside the building.
"I've taken a position of I don't want to put anybody in harm's way," she said.