Despite what officials have called extensive mold cleanup and environmental testing at the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts, Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi this week said he believes the courthouse still isn't safe. He's refusing to send people in his department's custody there.
The courthouse reopened Thursday after it had been shuttered for two weeks to deal with mold.
Cocchi runs the Hampden County Jail.
"I'm not going to roll the dice," Cocchi said. "Look, if I put 'em in there, I'm going to have the advocacy groups breathing down my neck, saying I don't care about the population. If I don't put 'em in there, I got people saying, 'Hey, what are you doing? You're hindering the court process.' Can't win, but we've got to do what's right."
Hampden DA Anthony Gulluni said he's not sending staff back to the courthouse — except to make appearances at court proceedings.
Panelist Dave Eisenstadter said he is very surprised the Trial Court has not taken more action to remediate the mold problem.
"This seems to be a years-long neglect that has led to this situation now," he said. "And I absolutely don't blame officials for refusing to use the building, or have a prison population or jail population housed there — especially some of the worst mold being in the holding cells. I think that's probably the right call. I do hope that the county can keep up with its duty to provide timely court dates for people, but definitely not... putting people's health at risk."
Panelist Tammy Daniels said she understands why people who work in the building would mount pressure on the state for improvements. And she said the incident points at two things.
"Number one, the infrastructure problems we have in the state," Daniels said. "It's not just limited to bridges and roads, which we can actually see. Obviously, it's showing up in our buildings as well. And secondly, it highlights the dramatic actions that have to take place before state officials really do something for it."
Daniels said a state complex in Bennington, Vermont, had to be closed for five years and completely rebuilt after conditions in the building caused people to get sick with respiratory issues.
"But again, it took years of people complaining before something happened," she said.
Also this week, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno announced the city will be implementing an indoor mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 cases. The order starts next week and runs through November 1. Hampden County continues to lag behind the rest of the state in vaccinations. Sarno said he hopes the mask mandate will encourage people to get the shots.
Some communities in western Massachusetts are getting ready for preliminary elections for mayor in the next few weeks. In North Adams, for the first time in the city's history, all four candidates are women. In Boston, all of the prominent mayoral candidates are women. And in Northampton, the top two fundraisers in the race are also women.
- Dave Eisenstadter, veteran western Mass. journalist
- Tammy Daniels, executive editor, iBerkshires.com