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County approves mold money, but jail still poses problems

The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office and Jail (File/KOKH).

Oklahoma County is trying to fix the county jail, but will the new efforts to clean up mold be enough? Both county leaders and employees at the Sheriff’s office worry the fight isn’t just against the now invasive mold, but against the building itself.

“We've got people with chronic respiratory problems sinus infections and that's what this is all about,” said Lt. Larry Grant, the president of Lodge 155 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents members of the Sheriff’s office. “We've got people constantly getting sick over and over again.

Grant says little cleanup of mold has happened since the county’s study to determine the extent of the mold damage. The FOP ordered its own study which found similar problems, but painted a more serious picture of the problem. It was not just mold being breathed in by jail employees, but the air itself was oversaturated with carbon dioxide. The higher-than-normal levels of CO2 could pose other health problems to both employees and inmates.

Put simply, employees at the sheriff’s office say they need help.

“We're not out to create a war zone between the county commissioners and us,” Grant explained, “I don't speak for the sheriff, this is strictly the FOP, what we're out for is please clean this place up give us a work environment that is healthy.”

The county is beginning to take steps towards cleaning the mold, but progress is slow.

“We've been doing some down at the kitchen area and we'll reopen the kitchen this spring,” said Rick Buchanan, the First Deputy for District 3 Commissioner Ray Vaughn.

“It would take $5 million right now to do some of stuff right now that we need to do and we just don't have the money,” Buchanan said. However, the commissioners have approved more than $260,000 to begin mold remediation and repair. The first goal is to target known leaks. That project is easier said than done.

so we're starting out with 262,000 doing the things we can get out without turning off the water to the

“If you've got an 8-inch pipe,” Buchanan explained, “In order to turn the water off you've got to turn the water off to the whole building.”

It would then take three days to fully recharge all 13 floors with water. There is no way known to isolate pipes that have leaks without taking the entire building offline.

“We're starting with some of the more simple plumbing fixtures,” Buchanan explained saying the goal is to tackle as many leaks as possible and clean up mold in those areas.

As long as there are leaks, there will likely be mold. County leaders say they are doing what they can now - and trying to figure out a long-term solution. Part of the decision rests on the future of criminal justice reform measures. The county is hoping to get a better idea what the average daily population of the jail will be so they can plan for more repairs or for a new facility. Buchanan also said the county is exploring purchasing a secondary facility to add space for mental health programs to aid in alleviating overcrowding.

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