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Property committee recommends spending $63,000 for municipal building water problems

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  The Colfax Village Board’s public property committee is recommending that the village board spend $63,000 to address water infiltration problems in the Colfax Municipal Building basement.

The public property committee met September 22 to discuss the water issue and to review quotes from three contractors to fix the drainage problems around the outside of the building, to remove all wood, wall and ceiling coverings from the basement and to remove two old boilers from the basement.

Bob Sworski, vice president and senior project manager with CBS Squared, an architectural and engineering company out of Chippewa Falls, also attended the meeting.

Sworski was employed by Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) in the late 1990s. He assessed water infiltration problems in the basement at that time and wrote the 1998 report from SEH.

Sworski and Sheryl Claflin, president and senior project manager of CBS Squared, toured the municipal building the week before the public property committee meeting.

“The building is structurally fine … it is in the same condition it was 15 years ago. (The building) is in excellent shape for being 100 years old,” Sworski said.

Degradation of the mortar on the southwest corner of the building is one of the sources of water infiltration, but fixing the mortar “is not a big deal,” he said.

Sworski said he had reviewed the report from Ericksen Roed & Associates and agreed with most of those recommendations for keeping water from infiltrating the basement.

The cost of the Ericksen Roed recommendations would be between $300,000 and $400,000, he said.

Sworski recommended the proposal by A Breeze Construction for $54,000 to fix the drainage around the outside of the building and said he believed the A Breeze proposal would solve the majority if not all of the water infiltration.

Mark Halpin, village trustee and chair of the public property committee, also was a village board member at the time of the 1998 report.

In 1998, the village board was faced with a number of other expensive projects that needed to be done, such as the  reconstruction of Main Street, and the Colfax Municipal Building ended up shuffled farther down on the list of necessary projects, Halpin said.

The municipal building has now moved to the top of the list again, he said.

Several torrential rain events this summer have left standing water in the municipal building basement.


Don Knutson, director of the Colfax Rescue Squad and the village’s health officer, toured the building September 4 with Keith Bergeson of the Dunn County health department to assess mold in the municipal building basement.

Mold can cause health problems for people with allergies or for those with a suppressed immune system, such as chemotherapy patients, children and the elderly, Knutson said.

Mold can trigger asthma attacks, and long-term exposure can create allergies resulting in cold-like symptoms, he said.

“I am not saying the building cannot be occupied, but I am saying there are risks in occupying the building and that you should be aware of them,” Knutson wrote in his report.

Humidity levels in the basement ranged from 74 percent to 85 percent, and mold can begin growing when the humidity level is at 50 percent, he said.

Other findings in the report included moisture behind the lath-plaster wall and the sandstone; wet or moist saturated drywall on the ceiling; doors open to the first floor that would allow mold spores to circulate throughout the building; windows open that would encourage air to circulate throughout the building; a moist concrete floor; a furnace system that has the potential to circulate air laden with mold spores throughout the building; and a very musty/mildewy smell.

Separating the heating and ventilation systems for the upper floors and the basement would prevent the circulation of mold spores from the basement to the upper floors of the building, Sworski noted.


Mold needs a cellulose material on which to grow, such as wood, drywall, and ceiling tiles, and a moist environment to grow in, Knutson said.

Knutson’s report recommended stopping the water infiltration to the basement and removing all cellulose materials on which mold could grow: anything made of wood, including door frames, drywall, paneling, ceiling tiles, tables, book shelves, and other items stored in the basement.

Knutson’s report also recommends installing dehumidifiers to bring the humidity level to 50 percent or lower and limiting air flow upstairs.

At this point, Knutson said he is not recommending that the building be evacuated or condemned.

Knutson also said he has been trying to determine if the municipal building basement was ever formally closed to the public, and if so, why it was re-opened and allowed to be used for several events in recent years.

The agency that closed the municipal building basement would have to be the agency that opened it again, he said.

Sworski said at the time he wrote the 1998 report, the municipal building basement had electrical problems and other violations, such as a lack of useable restrooms and no elevator for handicapped accessibility.

A space cannot be occupied without an elevator for accessibility, Sworski said.


A representative for A Breeze Construction called Sworski to talk about the Colfax Municipal Building and the water infiltration problems.

Sworski said he concurred with the recommendations from A Breeze.

A Breeze is proposing $54,371 worth of work that will include regrading the green space on the south side of the building to improve drainage, installing area drains to capture water coming off the roof, regrading and paving the parking area in back of the municipal building, installing catch basins in the parking lot, running pipe from the roof drain downspouts to the catch basins, and installing pipe to drain the catch basins toward the river, removing the window wells on the north and regrading to improve drainage as well as pouring concrete to help with draining away water.

Air MD Restoration, Inc., is proposing $7,900 worth of work to remove all of the material from the basement on which mold could grow.

The village paid Air MD about $16,000 in 2013 to clean the municipal building basement and partially remove some of the wall covering in an effort to reduce mold.

T&R Recycling is proposing to remove from the boiler room two old boilers and miscellaneous pipe that are no longer used at a cost of $900.

Basement use

The Colfax Municipal Building is a “phenomenally wonderful, well-built building,” Sworski said.

When Sworski wrote the first report in 1998, the auditorium had not been used for about 20 years.

An energy efficiency community block grant and the efforts of the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group have now turned the auditorium into a restored and useable space.

“The auditorium is gorgeous,” Sworski said.

The basement can also be cleaned and restored to the point where it can be used, he said.

Removing the cellulose materials from the basement where mold can grow will help for the humidity problems in the basement, Sworski said.

If the humidity is at 80 percent in the basement now, once all of the materials are removed, the humidity level might be at 60 percent, he said, noting the cellulose materials are great collectors of moisture.

“If you take care of the outside first, then there will probably be no (water) issues in the basement,” Sworski said.

Improving the drainage around the outside of the building and taking out the cellulose materials in the basement are the two most important projects right now, he said.

Sworski said he would not recommend doing anything to refinish the basement until the work is done outside of the building, the cellulose materials have been removed from the basement and the basement has been allowed to dry out.

LULA elevator

Installing a passenger elevator for the municipal building that has a 2,600 pound weight limit, can hold four to eight people and is handicapped accessible compliant would cost around $160,000, Sworski said.

Since an elevator in the municipal building probably would not be used very often — certainly not by hundreds of people every day — Sworski said he is not recommending a passenger elevator.

What he is recommending is a Limited Use Limited Access (LULA) elevator that would cost substantially less than a passenger elevator.

A LULA elevator would have room for a wheelchair and someone to accompany the person in the wheelchair, or it would have room for two or three people who cannot use the stairs, Sworski said.

A passenger elevator, for the cab, would cost around $70,000, while the LULA elevator itself would be about $35,000, he said.

The LULA elevator could be installed in the southwest corner of the municipal building to give access to the basement, the main floor and to the auditorium, he said.

Health issues

Scott Gunnufson, village president and a member of the public property committee, said it would be essential to address the water infiltration problems and to clean and dry the basement to protect the health of the public and of the village employees working in the municipal building.

The village board also must have a good idea of what it would cost to make the basement a useable space, he said, including the cost of upgrading the bathrooms, HVAC, plumbing, installing an elevator and refinishing the floor and the walls.

Sworski said he would recommend not covering the floor and the walls and that there are several ways to finish off the stone walls and the concrete that would not contribute to mold and moisture problems.

Annie Schieber, village trustee and a member of the public property committee, said she agreed that the village board must know the cost and also suggested that a plan of “how and what to do” is essential.

“We should take care of the drainage outside first, and then do the inside, and we need a plan,” Schieber said.

The Colfax Public Library is out of space and is not functional; the village hall has handicapped accessibility problems; and there is no community center because the basement is not useable, Gunnufson noted.

“We need a step approach, but we need to keep the budget in mind,” he said.

Sworski suggested that at some point, the village may want to consider moving the village clerk’s office and the police department to another building and devoting the entire municipal building to the library.

Gunnufson said the village may at some point consider selling the municipal building and moving the clerk’s office, police department and library elsewhere.


The public property committee approved a motion recommending that the village board contract with A Breeze Construction, T&R Recycling, and Air MD Restoration in the amount of $63,171 to address the drainage problems around the municipal building, to clean out the basement and to remove the old boilers and piping.

The village of Colfax has $77,912 in one designated fund for the municipal building basement and $165,280 in another fund designated for village hall improvements.

The $77,912 comes from $50,000 the village board set aside for the municipal building basement after the 1998 report and from private donations for improving the basement.

Spending the $63,000 will not create a tax burden for village residents and will not add to the 2015 budget or the 2016 budget, Gunnufson said.

If the village board approves the proposals at the September 28 meeting, the work can perhaps be completed yet this fall, said Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer.

Rand Bates, director of public works, noted that A Breeze Construction has indicated the company will not pour concrete after October 15.

The public property committee also instructed Niggemann to obtain estimates for making the basement fully functional, including plumbing, bathrooms, HVAC and refinishing the floor and walls as well as making it handicapped accessible.