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Officials acknowledge health concerns at Malden District Court played role in its temporary closure

A sign outside of Malden District Court.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

State officials cited only “ongoing repairs” when they announced last month that the 97-year-old Malden courthouse would be closed until spring.

But they now acknowledge that employees had been expressing health concerns, and that an environmental assessment showed dust, chemicals, and other irritants had been found in the building during those repairs.

A considerable number of Malden employees and staff, including clerks and probation officials, complained of poor air quality after the renovation project began in the summer, according to one person who has worked in the courthouse.

Symptoms included headaches, nausea, irritated eyes, and itching, said the person, who asked not to be identified because of concerns about employment reprisal. Remedies included opening windows and installing air purifiers, but they were so loud that conversation became difficult, the person said.


One court session had to be evacuated after people complained of nausea and light-headedness from the extreme smell of an adhesive, the person said.

“It all sort of came to a head in the last couple of months,” the person said.

Malden District Court moved its operations to Medford on Oct. 28, a week after state officials said that “ongoing repairs to the Malden District Courthouse necessitated the temporary move of all court business.” No mention was made of health issues.

The state acknowledged the air quality issues and health considerations in response to Globe inquiries.

“Health concerns were raised relative to the ongoing construction project. The assessment was of airborne dust and chemical impacts relating to the renovation project, which can act as irritants to the eyes, skin, or respiratory tract,” Jennifer Donahue, a spokeswoman for the state trial courts, wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

“The consultant’s recommendations were to increase ventilation and bring in air-filtration units, and improve the separation of the renovation work from court activity. The Trial Court decided that this would continue to intrude unacceptably on court business and that temporary relocation was a better option,” Donahue wrote.


The person who has worked at the court said that judges, lawyers, and court workers were told at an Oct. 10 meeting that elevated levels of carbon dioxide and inadequate ventilation had been found at the court, as well as mold in 13 locations.

Staff members were commended for reporting to work despite the conditions, the person added.

Donahue said the consultant found several small areas of water damage and mold, connected especially with condensation overflow from old heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, and that some exhaust systems had not been removing the moisture.

The consultant recommended that the courts consider replacing or updating the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems.

The day after the courthouse meeting, the National Association of Government Employees, the union that represents Malden court workers, said in a statement that it had “successfully convinced” the court to close the “unsafe courthouse” until the repairs are finished.

“The union became aware of the situation just seven days ago, and in that time have successfully pressured the [trial court] to shut the building down and move the business of the court to a safe, healthy location,” the statement said. “After lengthy discussions over the past few days, our members were informed today of the court closure.”

The statement thanked court officials for “acting so swiftly and decisively in response to the concerns of the union.”


The union did not return calls seeking comment.

The court hears criminal and civil cases from Malden, Melrose, Everett, and Wakefield, according to its website. It receives about 350 visitors each day.

In April, the state sought a contractor to repair the “entire envelope” of the building, including “roof replacement, window replacement, exterior door replacement, masonry work, resetting of granite stairs, construction of metal hand rails, installation of exterior door security controls,” according to COMMBUYS, the state’s online procurement record system.

The bid language said the work, with an estimated pricetag of $1.75 million, would be conducted “off hours.”

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.