Water leaks at jail, police HQ trigger state investigations
The buildings are saddled with millions of dollars in overdue maintenance.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – On May 30, a Louisville Metro Corrections employee complained in an email about a steady leak that had filled up three trash cans in her office. Water had dripped from the ceiling for more than a week, she told maintenance staff.
Another jail employee raised concerns in an email two days later, saying “it is literally raining” in the records department.
The leaks continued into the next week, prompting a June 3 letter from a supervisor who also serves as a union steward. She described water pouring through a light fixture.
“Someone could slip and fall, get shocked or even electrocuted,” she wrote. “It is bad enough that this continues on a daily basis, but now no lights either. How on second and third shift can one be expected to perform the duties without adequate lighting? How can someone do their work?”
The Kentucky Labor Cabinet began investigating the complaints on June 20. An inspector confirmed that pipes had been leaking, but found no standing water or evidence that any workers were injured, according to a report obtained under Kentucky’s public records law. No citations were issued when the case closed on July 5.
Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration acknowledged that state officials also have launched an inquiry into working conditions at Louisville Metro Police Department headquarters after reports of water dripping into offices. Besides police offices, the building at Sixth and Jefferson streets houses an “overflow” jail used by Metro Corrections.
In fact, Fischer’s facilities chief even broached the possibility of police moving from its offices at 633 W. Jefferson Street.
“We have to decide what is the most fiscally responsible: Putting a lot of dollars into that building or looking for another building or even looking at one of our other buildings that we own,” Cathy Duncan, director of facilities for Louisville Metro government, said in an interview this week.
Fischer declined to comment on whether LMPD is looking to move from its headquarters.
Even before the recent problems at the jail and police buildings, city officials laid out a daunting price tag for overdue maintenance and repairs at Metro government properties: $145 million at all city facilities, including $82 million for buildings.
The budget for the 2017 fiscal year approved this summer by the Metro Council spends $23 million on road paving, part of a 10-year plan to address deteriorating streets. But it makes “just a dent in our infrastructure needs, including facilities,” said Bill Hollander, D-9th District and chairman of the council’s ad hoc committee on infrastructure and maintenance.
“There’s not enough money to really make a plan to fix everything that needs to be fixed,” he said.
At least $3.6 million in overdue repairs is included in the budget, as are funds to renovate the exterior of City Hall and restore Metro Hall.
“We’ve identified a large amount of deferred maintenance in our community,” said Angela Leet, R-7th District, a committee member. “It becomes a matter of continuing to prioritizing that as funds are available.”
One solution over the long term might be erecting new buildings for Metro workers, said Kevin Kramer, chair of the council’s Republican caucus. He suggested a study that evaluates the cost of leasing space for Metro government workers compared with the expense of maintaining aging buildings.
“We’ve got room to build. We’ve got the space,” he said.
The budget passed in June sets aside $475,000 for Metro Corrections to remove and replace parts of the jail roof. The overall $825,000 project is set to start in the next two months, spokesman Steve Durham said in an email.
The spending plan also funds new security doors, electronic controls for “malfunctioning, outdated” equipment, smoke detectors and other items at the jail and the corrections department’s three other facilities.
Durham said maintenance was delayed during the economic slump in 2007 and 2008, but jail officials now are “stepping up” their efforts. The 925-bed main jail was built in the 1960s and converted from offices formerly used by the Metropolitan Sewer District in the 1990s.
“The reality is your jail is not in good shape,” Durham said. “We are spending money on everything from the doors to the roof.”
The recent Labor Cabinet investigation at the jail found one employee who was having respiratory symptoms linked to the leaking pipes, but an inspector saw no “visible mold” in the records area.
Corrections officials estimate their facilities have $7.3 million in deferred maintenance, including $2.2 million at the main jail and $4.4 million at the Community Corrections Center, a minimum-security facility on East Chestnut Street built in 1938.
“This is just to fix things that have been broken and not repaired. We’ve got leaky roofs in every one of our facilities, for example,” corrections director Mark Bolton told Metro Council members in May.
Tracy Dotson, president of the Louisville Corrections Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 77, said water is an ongoing problem at the jail.
“Water leaks have been a major concern for us because of the mold potential, the slip-and-fall potential -- things of that nature – for staff as well as inmates,” he said. “I was told the roof project, once completed, would take care of that.”
The auxiliary jail above police headquarters houses 120 inmates and is open when the other spaces are full. State inspectors visited the building on July 27, Dotson said.
That date corresponds with the start of a Labor Cabinet inspection at one of Louisville’s “correctional institutions,” according to a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration database. The state began a separate investigation at LMPD headquarters on August 11, the database shows.
Both cases are open; the Labor Cabinet provides investigative records once the cases are closed.
In May, facilities director Duncan told a Metro Council committee that the LMPD building needs $15 million in renovations; it is assessed for tax purposes at $436,800, according to the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator.
She said this week that pipes on the third floor of the building – where the emergency jail space is located -- are not flowing properly and some pipes are broken.
“Obviously no one wants water dripping or whatever dripping on them, but there wasn’t a safety issue,” she said.
Asked about the jail space, Fischer said: “This is really no way to run a facility. And we recognize that – so we are looking at a couple different options right now. It’s a little premature to talk about those.”
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