City Hall

An air scrubber operates in one of the City Hall offices that was filled with smoke Wednesday night when an HVAC unit malfunctioned.

ST. HELENA — St. Helena City Hall operations have moved to the former CDF building owned by the city at 1572 Railroad Ave. They will remain there well into January.

The City Hall was closed after a malfunctioning heating unit caused smoke damage Wednesday night. The building is undergoing smoke mitigation, air quality testing, and other remediation.

On Friday evening, Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said the Dec. 18 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. 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.”

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 on Thursday.

During remediation, eight employees from Finance, Planning & Building and the City Clerk’s office will work out of the city-owned building on Railroad Avenue, which already houses the Public Works Department. Two other staffers will work out of the firehouse.

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

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 problem started when a blower in one of City Hall’s five HVAC units failed to activate, causing the system to overheat at about 10:30 p.m. 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.

The building is being evaluated to determine the extent of the smoke damage and whether the incident might expose city workers to harmful substances like asbestos. It might be necessary to replace air ducts, ceiling tiles, insulation and drywall.

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

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