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Forest Service office deals with leaky building

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| January 7, 2009 11:00 PM

In one office, water pours through the ceiling near a window and pools on the floor. Next door in the supervisor’s office, furnishings are pushed to one side so a cleaning crew can extract water from the carpeting. Out front, the receptionist unlocks a cabinet where maps are kept in an effort to air them out and prevent damage.

Those are just a few of the scenes found Wednesday morning at the Kootenai National Forest’s supervisors office in Libby. Although water damage has never been uncommon at the leased building, it reached new heights this time around and even forced the office to close its doors.

“We’re basically trying to get out of the way and let folks work today to see if they can get some of the smell out of the front area,” said Paul Bradford, Kootenai National Forest supervisor. “We need to see if we can get this water stopped that’s coming in and ensure that there’s a safe environment for folks to be working.”

Bradford and his staff can only shake their heads at the damage that surrounds them. Water poured into various offices and rooms around the building and there were signs that more troubles could be on the way.

“In the back of the building, we’ve had issues with water coming in,” Bradford said. “It comes in from the foundation and we’re starting to see signs back there that water’s coming in.”

Water first began to make its way into the building back on Dec. 29. But when wet snow and rain began to fall on Tuesday, conditions only worsened. The building’s fire alarm even went off Tuesday night apparently because of a short in the wiring.

Bradford said “this is like a level up” in terms of the water damage’s severity.

“We’ve had plenty (of water-related incidents) in past years and our employees have always tried to tough it out and get stuff away from the spots where the leaks come in,” Bradford said. “This is beyond anything I’ve seen in my time.”

Bradford called an employee meeting late in the morning and soon thereafter, a sign was posted out on the front door informing the public that the office was closed. Approximately 60 people work in the building.

“Everybody’s going to be coming back tomorrow (Thursday) morning to see where we’re at,” Bradford said. “At this point, it’s continuing to get worse here. We have serious concerns about safety at this point.”

Another concern is the mold that can result from such wet conditions.

“I took some boxes and bags that were on the floor and I’m already seeing signs of mold,” Bradford said.

In the meantime, hired hands continued to do their best to dry out the building.

“The folks here that have been working to extract water from the carpet, they’ve really been doing a great job,” Bradford said. “They’re trying to stay ahead of the water that’s been coming in but at this point, the water is coming in faster than they can suck it up.”