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Institutional and commercial facilities are accustomed to change. Renovations and upgrades of key systems have long been common projects to achieve goals such as energy efficiency, sustainability and occupant comfort and health.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and maintenance and engineering managers were forced to revamp almost every activity and system in their facilities, from doors and restrooms to HVAC systems.
Now, managers with the main library branch in Boulder, Colorado, are being forced to adapt their facility due to a tragic and all-too-common challenge: methamphetamine users. Boulder’s main library branch is in the midst of a massive remediation effort after elevated levels of methamphetamine were found in seating areas and bathrooms, according to NPR for Northern Colorado. Upholstered furniture has been ripped out, as have computers. Much of the library has been cleaned top to bottom, including carpets, walls and HVAC systems.
“Careful not to touch anything because we haven't done any of the cleaning mitigation yet,” Gordon Holman, the city’s facilities maintenance manager, said as he opened one of the locked bathrooms with a key.
The restrooms were remodeled a few years ago. Bright geometric murals cover the walls. Now, plastic sheets are taped to touchless toilets and sinks. Contractors are replacing the ductwork and fans in restrooms after testing the exhaust fans showed meth levels significantly higher than the state’s threshold for remediation.
The city became aware of the issue in November 2022, when employees became dizzy after going into those restrooms. The odor was coming from meth that had been smoked. The residue is extremely sticky, hard to clean and can be easily transferred by fingers and clothes. Holman says he has been getting calls from facility managers all over the Denver metro area who want to know what happened in Boulder and how they are fixing it.
Holman is helping to install key card access for some of the restrooms. Backpacks may be prohibited in the bathrooms. The library is bringing on an additional security guard and is considering hiring security personnel with specialized training in substance abuse. Once remediation is complete, more testing will be done to make sure bathrooms are safe before they reopen. Remediation and clean-up efforts have cost the city over $170,000.
Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management.
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