Ozzie Elortegui weaved through a jungle of scaffolding that now inhabits large parts of the Saenger Theater Friday, before providing an update on the historic theater’s mold issue, which has it shut down until at least November.
Crews had placed scaffolding and as many as 11 large air filters throughout most of the theater’s arcade and second level. The three-phase filters, known as air scrubbers, would be used to clean the air, Elortegui said.
Scaffolding was going up in the auditorium, and it’s estimated to take between two to two and a half more weeks before all of it is in place, according to Elortegui.
“It’s a massive construction project,” he said. “We are using a lot of scaffolding in the Mobile area.”
The mold problem was the end result of a roof leak discovered by theater staff in late August.
“Unfortunately, it began in an isolated area due to a roof leak, but it began to get into the air conditioning unit and spread throughout the building,” Elortegui added.
The problem was also compounded by the theater’s plaster walls, which became a great growth medium for the mold. The heat and humidity has also been a contributing factor.
“Plaster is an organic compound,” he said. “The mold discovered it and was like ‘yum.’”
ServiceMaster was hired by the city to complete the work over eight weeks. The Mobile City Council approved the $734,000 contract as an emergency to help the city avoid a lengthy bidding process.
The city received two proposals, but ServiceMaster’s was cheaper and is expected to take less time, Real Estate Asset Management Director Brad Christensen told councilors during a meeting earlier this week.
Elortegui told a gaggle of reporters who toured the building Friday that the city hoped to be able to hand the building back over to SMG, the company that manages the Saenger, the Civic Center and the Convention Center, by Nov. 15.
While the work is continuing, shows scheduled for the theater will either be moved to the Civic Center theater or will be rescheduled.
To clean the mold, Elotegui said, workers would isolate various impacted areas before using a high-efficiency particulate air, HEPA vacuum. The areas will then be cleaned, disinfected and re-tested to make sure the mold is at acceptable levels. The areas will then be isolated with special, make-shift airlocks made with plastic to avoid cross-contamination, Elortegui said.
“If it’s cleared by the lab, it [will be] clean and is sealed off,” he said.
As for the safety of those who attended shows at the theater before the mold was discovered, Elortegui said the issue hadn’t spread by the time it was discovered and shouldn’t have caused any issue to those who attended shows earlier in the summer.
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