Friday, June 21, 2024

Stairs to the Windsor Preschool in Cambridge’s Port neighborhood. (Photo: Cambridge Arts via social media)

Three programs for young people ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers operate in one part of the basement of a Windsor Street building where mold and other hazards forced out city health department workers.

A Cambridge Day article about the exodus of the Cambridge Public Health Department from its basement offices at 119 Windsor St., The Port, alarmed the mother of a 5-year-old who attends the Windsor Preschool, operated by the city’s Department of Human Service Programs in the basement of the same building.

“I love the school, I love the teachers, I love the administrator,” Clare Selden Rager said. “I would like to know that my kid is safe.”

David Cecere, spokesperson for the Cambridge Health Alliance, which leases the building from the city, said Monday that the basement space housing the young people’s programs is not connected to the section where the health department operated and that the two areas have separate climate control and air conditioning systems. Jeremy Warnick, spokesperson for the city, confirmed that the two basement sections are separate.

Cecere also said testing “conducted by CHA following its discovery of the issue did not detect mold in other parts of the building, indicating the problem was localized to CHA’s space. Tests conducted by the city as recently as December 2023 confirmed this conclusion.”

The Alliance did not test the area where the programs for children and teens operate because “it was determined the issue was localized,” Cecere said. The city also did not test in that area because “there were no such issues identified” there, Warnick said, referring to mold. He did say that a city consultant performed “a full assessment” of the building and that “there were, and at this time, are, no known hazards” in the basement section housing the kids’ programs.

Leased and subleased

The Alliance subleased that section of the basement to the Cambridge Housing Authority. In turn, the housing authority rented spaces to the Windsor Preschool and the Community Art Center, a program for school-age kids, and used some of the area for its own workforce program, which helps high school students who live in its public housing developments graduate from high school and go on to college.

Michael Johnston, executive director of the housing authority, said the agency had been in the dark about mold contamination in the other section of the basement. “Your article is the first that we have heard of this issue, and we have reached out to the Cambridge Health Alliance for more information to determine our next steps,” Johnston said.

Cecere said the Alliance didn’t notify the housing authority for the same reason it didn’t test in the area occupied by the programs for kids: It had determined that the problem “was localized.”

Mayor urges renovations

Mayor E. Denise Simmons brought the situation affecting the Cambridge Public Health Department to light at a City Council meeting on May 13, calling the conditions in the basement at 119 Windsor St. “appalling.”

She pressed the city to renovate the building so employees of the city health department had enough space to work. The staff was moved to a much smaller area on the second floor of 119 Windsor St. Most of them must come into the office on alternate days and work from home or another location every other day.

Simmons did not mention the other section of the basement housing the preschool and other programs for children and youths.

City Manager Yi-An Huang and deputy city manager Owen O’Riordan didn’t make any promises. The city hired an architectural consultant to assess the building and estimate a cost to renovate it; the consultant’s report will be completed in the next several months, O’Riordan said.

The building also houses an Alliance primary care clinic and dental services, neither in the basement.