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St. Helena City Hall operations move to Railroad Avenue

St. Helena City Hall operations move to Railroad Avenue

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St. Helena City Hall operations have temporarily moved to the former CDF building at 1572 Railroad Ave. after a near-fire caused heavy smoke damage in the City Hall building.

As of late Monday, there was still no word on when the Finance Department, Planning & Building Department, and City Clerk’s office would return to City Hall.

A malfunctioning heating unit caused smoke damage at around 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 18. Since then, the building has undergone smoke mitigation, air quality testing, and other remediation.

The incident, combined with a sanitary sewer overflow earlier in the year that closed City Hall for three days, make it “clear the current City Hall building is coming to the final stages of its useful life,” said Mayor Geoff Ellsworth.

“This is occurring while our decision making process for new City Hall site selection is entering final stages over the next four to five months,” he said.

The problem started when a blower in one of City Hall’s five HVAC units failed to activate, causing the system to overheat. Melting plastic produced heavy smoke that permeated the building.

The building’s smoke alarms didn’t go off for reasons that remain unclear, but Recreation Supervisor Stephanie Iacobacci noticed the smoke from Lyman Park and notified the fire department.

Firefighters got the situation under control, but they had to cut a hole in the ceiling and might have damaged some of the air ducts.

Air scrubbers were deployed Thursday and removed Monday. The building is being evaluated to determine the extent of the smoke damage. An asbestos test came back negative, but it might be necessary to replace damaged air ducts, ceiling tiles, insulation and drywall.

The closure affects the workstations of 15 employees, but some are on vacation for the holidays, City Manager Mark Prestwich told the City Council during an emergency meeting last Thursday. During remediation, eight employees are working out of the Railroad Avenue building, which already houses the Public Works Department. Two other staffers are working out of the firehouse.

The police station and other city buildings, including the St. Helena Public Library, remain open as usual.

Prestwich said staff considered permanently moving to other city buildings, but determined it would be best to return to City Hall as soon as the building is safe.

They decided that moving staff to the Carnegie Building would disrupt recreational programs. Taking over the entire CDF building isn’t feasible either because the north side of the building lacks adequate flooring, a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, and a working HVAC unit.

With some employees on vacation over the holidays, the south side of the building will be adequate to house the remaining staff in the short term.

“The current state of the existing City Hall building will be analyzed in terms of safety and functionality in as timely a manner as possible and decisions on an interim plan will be made at that point and with that information,” Ellsworth said in a statement released Friday.

The city’s insurance pool should cover the cost of repairs, Prestwich told the council. However, the city might have to pay all or part of a $10,000 deductible, and the claim might result in higher premiums in the future.

The city will post updates on the situation at cityofsthelena.org.

Jesse Duarte's 5 memorable stories of 2019

Here are some of my favorite stories from the past year. They each got positive feedback, and they were a lot of fun to write.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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