Count squeezes records storage

As they pushed and prodded, Island County’s elected officials and department heads experienced first hand Elizabeth Fairfax’s daily nightmare.

Fairfax is the county’s records and information services manager and Monday morning, county commissioners, flanked by various county figureheads, saw what she already knows — the county is out of space for its records which date back more than 150 years.

“It’s a bottleneck that needs to be opened,” Fairfax said. “At the county offices, people are sitting on boxes in some of the areas.”

She navigates the narrow pathways with an ease and expertise that demonstrates her master’s degree in governmental records management. Fairfax manages more than 15,000 cubic feet of records and historical data for the county, but she says that space is not enough.

Fairfax said the American’s with Disabilities Act requires four-foot wide aisles, although finding them in the county’s storage facility, which is in a building at the Coupeville Solid Waste Facility, proves to be a daunting task.

“It’s a safety issue when I’m out here all by myself,” Fairfax said. “It’s a function of working with these records that makes it an issue.”

She said getting boxes out of the crowded space is a risk to her and other county employees who use the building.

County Commissioner Mike Shelton said the issue of storage is a perpetual problem for the county.

“Storage is such a huge problem and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Shelton said. “We’re trying to figure out what we need to do to get an adequate space for the storage of records.”

One of the solutions lies in the vacant trailers that served as the county offices prior to the completion of the Island County Annex Building remodel in 2003. The 100-foot long and 20-foot wide unit still needs major retrofitting to be useful for storing county records, some of which date to before the county was officially created in 1853.

The windows need to be removed, and the floor needs to be reinforced to support the weight of the records, Fairfax said. The new building was scheduled to be open by the end of fall, but the trailers sit with no sign of work being done. She said she expects the buildings to be open by the middle of next year.

“Right now, we are at a point where everything that can be destroyed has been destroyed,” she said.

The delicate papers of the records require special conditions to keep the paper from breaking down, Fairfax said. The temperature and lighting needs to be closely monitored, she said.

In addition to the main storage facility, the county also keeps elections records in a surplus shipping container that requires two people to open and rents commercial storage units around the county.

“The alternative we have is to purchase commercial facilities,” Fairfax said. “That destroys the integrity of the system we have for tracking.”

Until the new building is available for use, Fairfax will have to make do with what she has.

“It’s manageable in the sense that I’ve been doing it,” she said. “It’s not desirable by any stretch of the imagination.”

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