COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The Columbus County Board of Elections staff is relocating to a new building today after mold in their building on Legion Drive displaced them indefinitely.
According to Board Director Carla Strickland, the staff is moving to 2322 James B. White Highway North in Whiteville Thursday and Friday, and will be there for a minimum of four months.
"After that, we don't know. It's slow moving," she said.
Manager Bill Clark closed the county's Board of Elections indefinitely August 15 after mold was found inside the building August 12.
The board held an emergency meeting August 16 to address how to deal with the problem. According to Strickland, the mold covered more than $1 million worth of laptops and voting equipment. A report done by a private contractor hired by the county maintenance department said there were very high levels of mold in the lobby, and in the room the board's equipment is housed in.
The mold could also be in the ceiling and parts of offices in the building, Strickland said.
"As far as how extensive in the ceiling tiles, I don't know and we're not going up there to look," she said.
Officials believe the mold was caused by a combination of lack of ventilation paired with rain leaking into the building.
"Having to do something on an emergency basis like this, it's going to frustrate you," Strickland said. "It's like, OK, we have to plan. We have to have this contingency plan set up to where if it turns out that there is a problem with this type of mold or what have you, that we have a contingency plan set up at this point in time to keep our operation going."
County Maintenance Director Jerry Hayes showed board members two floors at the county health department August 16 to potentially act as a temporary site.
Strickland wasn't impressed with the space. She said not only is the area not handicapped friendly, but it also isn't feasible for their operations.
At the most, Strickland said she could see the board there for one week.
"These are pretty cumbersome pieces of equipment and the areas that they have up there, they're on a second floor," she said. "Moving this equipment back and forth and getting it set up for what we need to get it set up at polling places or what have you, it would be near impossible."
Hayes said he and the county manager will work with the board to find a solution.
"(Clark's) No. 1 priority is to not take chances with the staff here. That's why the building was shut down," Hayes said.
Now, the Board of Elections will work out of an office on James B White Highway, about a seven minute drive from their old office.
This is not the first time the Board of Elections building has had mold problems. Last summer, mold was addressed, but was treated as a "cosmetic fix," Strickland said.
According to Strickland, the county is staying on the safe side by closing the building.
"We want to reassure everyone that this is being done as a safety precaution and as we know where we are at, we will let you know what will happen," she said.
She said the public can still register to vote, or update voting information at the DMV, library, or print the online forms and mail them in.