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No mold at Ocean Pines Racquet Center building

The Ocean Pines Racquet Center building has reopened after an investigation Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors ordered in response to recent concerns revealed no evidence of mold or mildew.

Racquet sports committee members clarify statements

OP racquet center sign

The sign for the Ocean Pines Racquet Center.
Tara Fischer/ Bayside Gazette

By Tara Fischer, Staff Writer 

The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors has revealed that, upon a thorough examination, the racquet center building was free of mold and mildew, despite concerns raised by a Racquet Sports Advisory Committee member.

At a March 23 OPA Board of Directors meeting, committe member Suzanne Russell claimed that the center’s building contained mold and, in some cases, sickened employees and members. On March 24, the board and OPA General Manager John Viola closed the facility, including the outdoor courts, until the assertion could be investigated. The courts reopened the following day for players as the building was inspected.

A statement released by the association’s governing body on March 29 revealed a proper analysis found no evidence of mold or mildew.

“OPA management took immediate action to close and proactively inspect the facility, which involved destructive investigation behind walls and under carpeting, inspection by qualified outside professionals, and testing the air inside the building for ambient mold conditions,” the board’s statement reads. “…Although a few very small areas of discoloration of indeterminate type were observed on the interior side of a wall, there was no discovery of any confirmed mold or similar condition or other indication that was sufficient to warrant further testing, inspection, or investigation.”

The board upheld Russell’s claims as the basis for the request for a completely new racquet sports center building instead of the previously approved renovations. The body suspects the committee may have acted outside its jurisdiction to address their health and safety worries.  

“We are deeply concerned that, as to matters raised publicly by the RSAC in the March Board meeting, the committee was less than thorough in its own vetting of the purported mold concerns and may have made public assertions in that regard for purposes other than the performance of the committee’s legitimate role,” the statement said. 

At the March 23 meeting, Russell claimed that the committee was presented with plans to double the structure’s size last May. The group was later told that any upgrades could not extend beyond the facility’s original footprint, and improvements had to be made through renovations rather than rebuilding. 

Russell continued to argue that the current spot is undersized and cannot meet the players’ needs, especially as membership increases. The said an entirely new building was the solution to the lack of usable space, as group functions had to be relocated to the community center’s Assateague Room among any structural unsoundness. 

Russell also said the golf course building was found to have mold while undergoing renovations in 2015, which forced the association to tear down the entire facility. The committee member provided this situation as part of her reasoning for requesting a comprehensive health evaluation of the racquet structure. 

OPA Board President Rick Farr said the association spent $10,000 in labor, materials, supplies, and services to investigate the concerns. 

In an email response to the OPA board and Viola, Russell clarified that at the March 23 meeting, she was not speaking on behalf of the advisory committee but rather as a concerned resident. She maintained that suspected mold was mentioned in the March 2023 RSAC meeting minutes and that players have witnessed staff spray chemicals in the building and pull out cabinets behind the registration area, which revealed black discoloration. 

Much to the board’s dismay, Russell’s initial statement revealed that the group discussed the viability of a new racquet center building with Worcester County officials. She claimed professionals said that permits for the original expansion project could be easily obtained. 

The directors said the advisory committees are barred from advocating for community groups, lobbying the board, and generating “controversy or disputes between themselves and the board or otherwise as to OPA matters,” which they believe the racquet sports committee members violated. 

The statement continued, “Advisory committees are not permitted to interact with governmental entities on OPA matters without express authorization from the OPA Board … We are concerned by references in the RSAC’s public statement concerning unauthorized OPA-related interactions with county officials. The Board of Directors will meet soon to discuss appropriate next steps in light of this situation.”

However, Russell claimed a resident called the county to discuss a house project. While on the phone, she said the resident asked how Ocean Pines could properly expand the racquet center. She said the the caller did not identify themselves as an OPA employee at any point. 

“The RSAC committee understands that we are an advisory committee and that the OPA board makes all final decisions,” Committee Chair Cathryn Noble said.

The racquet center building reopened on April 1. According to a press release issued by OPA Director of Public Relations and Marketing Josh Davis, players should check in on the left side of the facility. The warming hut remained closed pending an evaluation. 

This story appears in the April 4, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.