Future of Presidio County Annex uncertain as mold problem worsens

PRESIDIO — After rain and snow hit the Big Bend region on March 18, a familiar foe resurfaced at the Presidio County Annex: a mold problem that has been growing with each weather event over the past few months. Building B has been besieged by brown, stained walls and soggy carpet since the fall of last year, leaving Presidio-based officials to wonder when repairs will begin in earnest.

The issue was brought to the attention of Presidio County Commissioners Court in August after weeks of sustained flooding left water leaking from the roof and pooling on the carpet. “Water is coming in from the walls, the doors, everywhere,” Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Juanita Bishop told the commissioners.

Presidio officials’ request for funding came just after the county dedicated its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds — an infusion of federal stimulus cash to local governments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — to the Marfa firehouse. After months of deliberation, the county had decided to use the funds to help make necessary repairs to the building, to the tune of $224,000.

Former Precinct 3 Commissioner Eloy Aranda originally moved to rescind the funding from the Marfa Fire Station and divert some of the allotted cash to fixing the annex building. Then-County Judge Cinderela Guevara quickly nipped that idea in the bud, but sent William Helm of El Paso’s in•situ architecture to inspect the building.

In the process of his inspection, Helm discovered that the metal roof on Annex Building B was the roof original to the building — the gaskets holding it in place had been rotted by the sun, allowing water to seep in and pool beneath the shingles.

In the past few weeks, conditions deteriorated to the point that the office of Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Juanita Bishop was shifted from Building B to Building C, which had formerly been used only as a polling location. Her courtroom hasn’t moved — the highest concentration of damage was done to the office itself.

The process of moving all of the furniture out of the building revealed a crime scene outline of mold under Bishop’s desk. She and her two part-time employees said they’d been suffering from headaches since the heavy rains in August and September.

After the heavy rain, they worked with their doors open — which wasn’t ideal with the gusty desert winds. When the mold worsened, she moved from carrying out her duties as justice of the peace at her desk to a cramped couch. “My head was pounding,” she said.

For now, the building’s future is up in the air — Precinct 2 Commissioner Margarito Hernandez brought up the possibility of repairs at the last Commissioners Court meeting. “With all that water coming into the building, the walls could collapse,” he said. “I think we have to take priority on it and take care of the roof.”

County Judge Joe Portillo didn’t yet have a firm timeline — but promised that discussion would continue. “It’s going to get more expensive if we don’t address it now,” he said. “I’ll spend some time looking at it and put it on the agenda again.”