AUBURN — The foul air that led Androscoggin County commissioners to evacuate the basement of the downtown courthouse more than a year ago may not be that foul after all.

A just-completed study of the air found elevated levels of mold and other common pollutants in the basement. However, the rooms may be safely occupied for little more than the cost of a proper cleaning, new carpets and dehumidifiers, according to the report’s recommendations.

“It’s great news,” Commission Chairman Randall Greenwood said. “It means we won’t likely need to rent space.”

For more than a year — since the previous commission made the basement area off limits — sheriff’s deputies have been making due. In some cases, detectives have been squeezed into closet-sized rooms. Some deputies work in cubicles in a corner of the dispatching room. Patrol deputies have been working from desks at several local police and fire departments.

Former commissioners Elmer Berry, Helen Poulin and Constance Cote ordered the evacuation after touring the basement area with Lewiston City Councilors in the fall of 2008. The commissioners complained of musty air and worried that people could become sick if they stayed. Within weeks, they floated the idea of building an addition to the county building for the displaced deputies and a larger dispatch center.

The project never moved forward. Sheriff Guy Desjardins investigated renting space for his patrol deputies, but that never happened either.

Meanwhile, the current commissioners — Greenwood, Elaine Makas and Jonathan LaBonte — hired Acadia Contractors of Turner to conduct an indoor air-quality assessment of the entire county building.

Acadia’s recommendations include the replacement of water-stained tiles and updated ventilation in the District Attorney’s Office.

However, most of the recommended changes were reserved for the basement: removal of carpeting, cleaning and disinfecting the walls, removal of boiler-room floor tiles that likely contain asbestos and air filtration and circulation systems.

Greenwood said this week that he was uncertain how soon changes would be made, particularly since an analysis of the entire building will be conducted this year.

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