FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MAR. 1, 2010
CONTACT: THE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS MUSEUM
PHONE: (830) 444-0523
MUSEUM’S NEW BUILDING INFESTED WITH MOLD
On January 1, the Douglas Fairbanks Museum relocated to Gonzales, Texas, after nearly four years of occupying temporary office and exhibit spaces during their search for a new permanent location.
The museum moved into an 1890s vintage home on Saint George Street in Gonzales, with 800 square feet of space donated to the museum for library and gallery space, along with separate housing quarters for onsite staff.
Plans were underway to re-open the museum on March 1, just in time for Texas Independence Week festivities.
Museum staff and volunteers were working fast and furious to uncrate exhibits when on one rainy day in January, somebody noticed a strong and unmistakeable smell in the museum’s entry hall — mold.
“At that moment, it was like the sound of tires screeching to a halt,” said museum curator Keri Leigh. “Everything stopped until we could investigate further and see how severe the mold problem was, and most importantly, until we could find out what level of action and resources was going to be required to fix it.”
“So I put on my coveralls, got out the flashlight, camera, clipboard, toolkit and got to work,” says Greg Jackson, the museum’s onsite facilities manager.
Jackson, who was also a licensed structural pest control inspector in California for many years before moving to Texas, began inspecting the home top to bottom; taking samples of the mold with scotch tape and petri dishes for further lab testing to find out the exact types and levels of mold present within the structure.
“At first, we thought the mold was contained to just one wall of the home since we were only smelling it in that one area,” says Jackson. “However, once I inspected the attic and crawled the home’s sub area, it became clear that this infestation was far more widespread than we originally thought. Mold is present and live throughout the home.”
The inspection revealed extensive evidence of roof leaks in the attic – water had severely damaged the sheathing and in many spots had completely rotted out the wood. Mold and fungus were found to be growing on wood and metal flashing throughout the attic area.
Jackson also found another surprise while inspecting the attic: a severe termite infestation. “Apparently termites have found this home a delicious treat,” says Jackson. “They’ve obviously been eating here for several years, and have simply chewed a lot of the wood away. Between the water damage, dry rot and termite damage, it’s a real mess.”
Jackson was in for an even bigger surprise when he inspected under the house: “Turns out a little mold growing inside a wall was the least of our problems,” he said. “It’s not only inside that one wall, but is growing underneath the entire house.”
When Jackson inspected the subarea beneath the home, he found evidence of prior flooding which had severely damaged the flooring and sub flooring. “And because these are wood floors, they became a magnet for termites and fungi,” Jackson says. “I discovered extensive evidence of termite infestations, dry rot, mold and fungus all throughout the sub area.”
Jackson says that because these water problems appear to have been present for some time and were not treated or remedied before, the infestation has had lots of time to fester and spread, which is going to make treatment and remediation both costly and time-consuming.
But what concerned Jackson even more than the evidence of water intrusion, termites and mold itself was the damage these problems have caused to the home’s structural system and foundation. “Key support beams and piers beneath the home have been severely weakened in spots due to prior water damage, dry rot, and termite infestations,” Jackson reported. “Some of these key support systems are so weakened that they could fail at any time.”
One area of particular concern to Jackson was the bathroom. Upon entering the subarea directly beneath, he made a startling discovery: the floors were so badly water damaged that portions of the sub flooring had disintigrated away.
“The wood in that area is so far gone that it literally crumbles into dust when you touch it,” Jackson says. “ The floor is in danger of collapse.”
“Ever since I made that discovery, I’m very nervous every time I sit down on the commode,” he said with a light chuckle. “Let’s put it that way.”
Jackson, who also lives onsite, had noticed previously that the bathtub was leaning slightly off-level and leaked water on to the floor every time the tub was used. “That’s not a really difficult repair to make, so I wasn’t too worried about that so long as it as attended to quickly,” he said. “But when I looked under the house and saw how extensively water damaged the support beams directly beneath the bathroom area were, I knew the problem was much more serious.”
“There’s nothing quite like the possibility that the tub or commode could just fall through the floor to get your attention,” Jackson said. “Someone could get seriously hurt or even killed just using the bathroom, and that’s a risk the museum obviously won’t take with the safety of its’ visitors.”
When Jackson turned in his inspection report and photos to the museum’s curator, Leigh was shocked by what she saw: “Needless to say, this was not good news,” she said.
“Mold is a museum’s worst enemy,” Leigh explained. “For a museum like ours where the majority of our collections are very old and porous paper products such as newspapers, books, posters, photographs and documents, mold just attaches itself to them. It feeds on cellulose. Air where the relative humidity (RH) is above 80% will support mold on cellulosics — cotton or linen — and most of our collections are made from those materials.”
Leigh has expressed great concern about high humidity levels in the home. Several months ago, even before the mold was discovered, Leigh was setting up an exhibit case in the main gallery when she noticed the gauge used to monitor humidity levels was giving off very high readings. “My thermo hygrometer was reading at 80-95%, based on the weather that day. On dry sunny days, the levels were at about 60-65%, but on humid or rainy days, the recorded humidity levels were just off the charts. I couldn’t figure out why.”
Leigh had also noticed excessive condensation appearing on glass doors and windows inside the museum, even on and inside the exhibit cases. “Now that’s a problem.” Leigh said. “You can’t have water droplets collecting inside an exhibit case filled with rare artifacts. Without airflow inside a case, those artifacts would start growing mold in no time.”
“So from all previous indicators, I could tell the museum building had some kind of moisture instrusion problem,” Leigh says, “but didn’t know just how widespread or severe the problem really was until I saw Greg’s photos and report of what was going on in the attic, underneath the building and within the walls. The whole building is a petri dish. Live mold and fungus are growing everywhere.”