This article is from today's New London Day. It appeared as the headline article on the front page of the Region section. The Martin Center, of course, is better known to most of us as the former Marian Hall. The Senior Citizens Center includes our former cafeteria area in the rear lower level of the building.
NL cited for conditions at senior center, offices
State found violations related to maintenance, poor housekeeping
New London — State safety officials this summer cited the city for several workplace violations at the Richard R. Martin Center and Senior Citizens Center related to a lack of maintenance and poor housekeeping.
Inspectors with the state Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health found an accumulation of mold, paint chips and debris, much of which is linked to water leaks over the years, inside the two connected buildings at 120 Broad St. There were also slate tiles falling off the Martin Center roof and an ineffective rodent extermination program, according to a state OSHA report obtained by The Day.
The violations were issued on Aug. 25 and a settlement agreement reached with the city on Sept. 19, according to state OSHA records.
For the Senior Center, the inspector found one serious violation and several “other than serious” issues that do not carry a penalty, but also needed correction. At the Martin Center, the inspector cited a serious violation related to the cleanliness of the building and two others regarding lack of employee training and how the floor was cleaned.
Several rooms closed off
There were no immediate health risks for city employees and no significant levels of airborne mold. The city, though, was forced to take corrective actions which involved extensive rehabilitation work at the senior center and the closing of several rooms and the auditorium at the Martin Center. Lead was also detected in some of the paint samples taken at the Martin Center but none to a level that led to an OSHA violation.
One of the “serious” violations noted by OSHA officials was due to the lack of proper asbestos awareness training and based on the fact staff had not used low abrasion pads when cleaning the asbestos floor tiles.
The city has spent about $95,000 for the renovations and repairs being conducted by public works employees at the senior center, according to Public Works Director Brian Sear. The funds, approved by the City Council in October, will come from a portion of the city’s share of the state Local Capital Improvement Program.
The renovations at the Senior Center and cleanup at the Martin Center were part of a settlement the city reached with state OSHA officials who acknowledged a swift response by the city and Risk Manager Paul Gills. OSHA halved the city’s initial proposed fine of $1,180 to $590.
“The city has done a fantastic job in doing everything they can to get these things corrected,” said state OSHA Director Kenneth Tucker III.
The city has taken all required corrective action at the Martin Center and is close to completing work at the senior center, Gills said. The inspection that prompted the citations was conducted on May 11 based on a complaint filed on behalf of public works employees by local public works union president David Kotecki. Kotecki said at the time the concern was not just for employees but visitors coming and going from the Martin Center.
The Martin Center is home to a mix of city departments and a handful of employees from public works, public utilities, New London Youth Affairs Family Childhood Center and the recreation department.
The Martin Center’s deteriorating condition is well known among city officials who earlier this year declared the building surplus property and are marketing it for possible senior housing through the Renaissance City Development Association.
Mayor Michael Passero called it “some of the most expensive office space in the city,” because of the exorbitant maintenance costs associated with such an old and sprawling building. Built in 1950, the 48,000-square-foot building is originally part of the Williams Memorial Institute and was purchased by the city in 1975.
“We can’t afford to keep up with the building. It’s not a secret,” Passero said.
Passero said the focus for the future will be continued investment at the senior center and the Martin Center’s gymnasium, which is used for various recreation department programs. The rest of the Martin Center is to be vacated.
The public utilities department is preparing for a move to an office building at Fort Trumbull while the city will explore the possibility of using previously vacated space at the city-owned Stanton Building for public works employees.
In the meantime, Passero said the city will continue to seek grant funds, a partner or other means to repurpose the Martin Center property.
The work at the senior center was extensive and remains ongoing. The city has already replaced most of the roof which was considered the source of many of the problems – water damaged sheetrock walls, ceilings and floors. Leaking windows were also replaced.
Senior Affairs Commission Chairwoman Karen Paul said the improvements completed by the public works employees have improved the space but were long overdue. She said the senior center has suffered damage for years because of water damage related to the leaky roof and windows and backed up drainage pipes.
She said the work should have been done a long time ago.
“There have been times through the years that water was pouring in,” she added.
Paul said there have not been any water problems since the city performed the most recent repairs.
Gills, the city’s risk manager, said the last of the work to satisfy OSHA was expected to be completed by January.
Gills said the city might have avoided the citations had the union followed the city’s safety management process and raised concerns at one of the regular safety committee meeting. Gills said OSHA would have been brought in for an inspection and consultation rather than enforcement.
“It could have been handled differently,” Gills said.