Deadly mold confirmed in Garberville VFW hall

In front of the now closed VFW Hall in Garberville, from left, VFW Post 6354 Commander Hank Toburg, Quartermaster Loren Pancoast, VFW Administator Amy McClelland and former District Commander Dawn “Dusty” Napier.
In front of the now closed VFW Hall in Garberville, from left, VFW Post 6354 Commander Hank Toburg, Quartermaster Loren Pancoast, VFW Administator Amy McClelland and former District Commander Dawn “Dusty” Napier. Kellie Ann Benz — THE REDWOOD TIMES
The VFW Garberville hall, a much used community center for Southern Humboldt, now closed while the county sorts out the future of the building at 483 Conger St. The county own the veteran’s hall, but the local veteran’s unit carries the liability insurance. The building is now closed with no current plans for re-opening.
The VFW Garberville hall, a much used community center for Southern Humboldt, now closed while the county sorts out the future of the building at 483 Conger St. The county own the veteran’s hall, but the local veteran’s unit carries the liability insurance. The building is now closed with no current plans for re-opening. Kellie Ann Benz — THE REDWOOD TIMES

The mold that shut down the Veterans of Foreign Wars Garberville Post wasn’t just any kind of mold. A report issued on May 11, 2016 to Humboldt County Building Maintenance Supervisor Don Morris stated that “visible Rhizopus mold growing on the fiberboard ceiling panels in the gathering room is extensive and potentially very adverse to the health of the building occupants.”

In the same report, it said that ‘active fertile colonies’ of Rhizopus mold were present and that it’s common to food, fruit, jams/jellies, nuts, dust and soil. The report went on to explain that “acute exposure can cause respiratory complications especially for immune-compromised persons, and can cause infections in burn, malnutrition and diabetic ketoacidosis patients.” Infections can be hard to treat and “can be fatal” the report said.

In a letter dated June 10 to the VFW administrator Amy McClelland from County of Humboldt Public Works Senior Real Property Agent Ronda Kime, the building administrator was instructed to “cancel and scheduled meetings or planned activities until further notice and do not enter the building” without contacting county building maintenance supervisor Don Morris.

“This came out of the blue,” said Dawn “Dusty” Napier, the VFW’s former district commander. “We carry the liability insurance for the building, so you would think there would be a better sharing of information.”

In the June letter, Kime writes that the reason for the closure was the discovery of mold in the building after independent contractors confirmed that tests for mold spores came back positive.

“We wished they would have talked to us, worked with us,” said Napier. “They just showed up one day to test for it.”

According to county spokesman Sean Quincey, “The Judicial Council of California (Courts) requested the mold testing.” The county paid $921.25 for the test from consultants Brunelle & Clarke Consulting of Arcata. The test was conducted on April 20, 2016.

The Garberville VFW was delivered a copy of the mold report and they were alarmed to find out about the level of contamination. In the seven page report, the consultants noted “several of the mold types detected and/or found in these samples can potentially present adverse health effect, ranging from allergenic to pathogenic.”

“We had no direction from the county on this until we saw the report,” said Hank Toburg, commander of the VFW 6354. “This is our community hall where we hold Thanksgiving dinners and wedding, funerals, birthday parties.”

VFW administration and executives feel blindsided and frustrated that the county — which took over ownership of the building years ago under an understanding that it would be kept up to code and remain in use for veterans into perpetuity.

“We’ve spent up to $5,000 of our own money on replacing the floor,” said Toburg. “And we’ve never seen a dime back from the county for that.”

More troubling for the veterans however, was the dangerous level of mold that was in the building and the unhealthy exposure that they all experienced while using the building on such a regular basis.

“How could the county let this building go to rot with us inside of it the whole time?” Pancoast said. “This building was bequeathed to the local veterans from a widow of a veteran.”

Quincey said that “county staff is working on receiving an estimate for repairs as well as other options for county facility consolidation.”

He added that temporary housing is available for local veterans at Benbow from August to September. “And then will hopefully be moved to the Garberville CR campus once a lease is finalized,” Quincey said via email.

When asked how real the offer for the campus is, Quincey said that it was “Very real. We’re negotiating with the College of the Redwoods, figuring out specifics on a lease. I hope we can get the details ironed out soon because we know how important it is for the veterans to have a space to hold their meetings and other functions.”

In response to their offer, Pancoast confirmed he is recommending that the VFW accept the county’s offer but added, “It’s for VFW and Legion meetings only, it’s not a rental hall, but a place for us to meet when we need to meet,” Pancoast also noted that the temporary location — the hall in the Benbow RV park — is only until September, which doesn’t solve the problem of the annual Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners.

“We serve the entire community during the holidays,” Pancoast said. “There are people counting on us every year to hold those events.”

Quincey said that the county is still determining the costs to repairing the Garberville building, or if “other strategies should be pursued like a complete tear-down or re-build, or moving the veterans permanently to another site altogether.”

The VFW is a non-profit organization that depends on hall rentals to pay its bills. Without the hall, they have no rental income and are unable to pay their bills, including their one administrative staff member. They are closed until further notice from the county.

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