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‘Sick’ buildings slow, but don’t stop, FCSO
sick building interi
Kathee Robinson works in the CSO Criminal Investigations Division main facility. Robinson and other employees will have to leave the building. - photo by Jim Dean
Forsyth County’s sheriff said moving employees from two of the department’s facilities has slowed investigations, but hasn’t compromised the integrity of any cases.

Ted Paxton said the Criminal Investigations Division annex and the Crime Scene Investigations building were vacated about two weeks ago following several employee reports of illness.

He said the employees, which include homicide, sex crime and robbery investigators, have relocated to the department’s north and south precincts.

Paxton said a third building, the Criminal Investigations Division main facility, will also have to be abandoned, though there is nowhere for those employees to go.

All three structures are off Veterans Memorial Boulevard next to the Forsyth County Detention Center.

Paxton said he ordered the buildings vacated after employees were diagnosed with “sick building syndrome.”

The term, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site, describes “situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.”

The site goes on to say that the illness can be caused by inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor and outdoor sources and biological contaminants.

Symptoms of “sick building syndrome” include headache, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, dry or itchy skin, dizziness and nausea.

Paxton said a doctor recently told one employee not to enter any of the three buildings.

The sheriff met Monday with Forsyth County Commissioners Patrick Bell and Brian Tam, Public Facilities Director David Thornton and Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas to discuss possible solutions, one of which is renting office space.

“They’re going to move forward right now with looking at getting the one building rented for the crime scene investigators,” Paxton said.

“That’s the one that’s most critical as far as getting them relocated.”

He said evidence normally processed in the county eventually may have to be shipped elsewhere.

“If we don’t have the proper setting to be able to handle that evidence, we’re not going to jeopardize the integrity of it,” Paxton said. “We’re just going to go ahead and send it to the state until we’re able to get our own system back up and running.

“I’m sure eventually some defense lawyer will think he’s got an edge on getting evidence thrown out.”

Paxton said one employee, who worked with the sex offender registry and dealt with inputting sex crime information, has had to move to another building away from all of her work.

Capt. Paul Taylor, commander of the sheriff’s criminal investigations division, said work in the crime scene lab has essentially ground to a halt.

“We’ve been able to do some at our car lab, which we’ve got located next to the north precinct, but we don’t have the facility right now to do the chemical work we need to do for the processing,” he said.

Taylor, who works in the main CID building, also said moving investigators to precincts on both ends of the county has made their jobs more difficult.

For example, three investigators were moved to one precinct while their supervisor was moved to the other, he said.

“The main thing is, it has complicated our lines of communication and information flow and that’s a critical part of our operation,” he said.

Taylor said because of space restrictions, investigators have had to leave behind equipment used in various cases, including assaults, homicides and child and sex crimes.

He said the investigators are in nicer facilities, but those buildings may not accommodate the privacy necessary in handling sensitive cases.

“(The precincts) are there to respond to the public and that doesn’t really coincide with the job that some of these people do,” Taylor said.

The disruption has confirmed Paxton’s previous concerns about the 1950s and ‘60s era buildings, which contain asbestos and have had ventilation and water leakage issues.

It also comes on the heels of November’s failed $16 million bond proposal that would have paid for a new 51,000-square-foot sheriff’s headquarters.

Voters also rejected a plan to build a 226,000-square-foot jail with 480 beds through a separate $75 million bond.

E-mail Julie Arrington at