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'Can we just get out of this mess and not end up bankrupt?' | Moline yoga studio turns to city officials for help

Indigo Wellness Studios has "sick building syndrome," and owners say it stems from a construction nightmare that began three years ago.

MOLINE, Ill. — Friends, family and clients of the owners of Indigo Wellness Studios, a Moline yoga studio, gathered outside Moline City Hall Tuesday, Jan. 11 to demand "justice for Indigo."

Indigo Wellness Studios has been in business since 2006 in downtown Moline. For years, owners Shannon Moran and Abigail Webster-Moran had been leasing spaces, but in 2018, they bought their current plot of land at 4701 41st St. in Moline and began building their studio.

"We're like, it'd be wonderful to put equity in our business, have something to give our children in the future and build the space that we own," Shannon Moran said.

The studio opened in April 2019 and includes two hot yoga rooms.

An HVAC unit had been installed, and Moran said he explained to the construction company how the system would be used for the hot yoga rooms.

"We want a system that goes from mid-70° for two hot yoga rooms, all the way up to 105° with 38-40% relative humidity," he said. 

However, just three and a half months into the studio being opened, Moran noticed "the system was never doing what it was supposed to."

"We were never able to keep it at that 40% humidity, we would often be at 60, 65% humidity," Moran said. "It doesn't feel good to the students at that point. They can sometimes feel sick, almost want to pass out."

At that point, a technician advised Moran to turn the hot yoga equipment off until the winter months.

"We just spent $46,000 on HVAC and all this fancy equipment with this company and we've only been open for three and a half months," Moran said. "We turned it off, just kind of accepted it wasn't gonna work the way it was supposed to. And then December 2019, we're at the desk in the morning one day, and we see around where basically where the wall meets the ceiling, water damage. Alright, what is going on in our brand new building that we have water damage already? Turns out the whole attic had frozen like an ice cube."

The Morans hired another company to come in and complete restoration work that was finished in July 2020. Moran describes feeling very relaxed from that point on, once the restoration was complete and they were able to reopen during the pandemic, all the way until December when the frozen attic problem arose again.

"I turn it all off and said, I'm not going to run this stuff because I don't want to create the same damage again, because we turned it off and didn't do any of the hot yoga stuff that we normally would do," he said.

This past summer 2021, another problem arose. This time, the floor in the building was sweating and the galvanized steel building was rusting as well. The walls are retaining water moisture. Moran recalls water pouring out of the air conditioning unit during classes.

An engineer discovered that the building has no fresh air ventilation. The Environmental Protection Agency requires that if outside air is provided through a mechanical system, then at least 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outside air must be provided for each occupant. Indigo Wellness Studios has zero, according to Moran.

"He goes, 'You have sick building syndrome,'" Moran said. "What's happening there is the inside of your building is sweating, and it's trying to pull moisture in through the ground, in through the walls, anywhere that it can."

At that point, Moran said they closed the studio out of an abundance of caution for their clients' healths.

"I did right away a Google search and saw (sick building syndrome) could make people feel sick," he said. "Then I tested the air quality myself, when it showed there was bacteria in there, I shut down."

Now, he blames not only the construction, but the city of Moline's inspection as well. He claims an engineer at one point told him the building should have never passed city inspection.

"We've had problem after problem in this building. How did this brand new construction, new construction from the ground up, how did this pass city inspections?" Moran said. "(The City Inspector) said, 'I didn't know you guys were going to be a hot yoga studio, or I would have never passed these plans. I would have asked for mechanical drawings. I would ask for more than two coats of paint in the whole place.' They didn't ask for any vapor barriers, because we would have done it very differently."

The city was well aware that it was a hot yoga studio, Moran claims. He added that he's been in constant communication with city officials since March 2020 about the building's problems. The city claims it was not made aware of the problems until "late summer or early autumn of 2021."

Three years into the construction nightmare, and with over a third of a million dollars owed to the bank, Moran said they just want help from Moline.

"Helping us whether it's helping us make the other people accountable, or helping us repair it," Moran said. "We would like them to step up and admit that things were overlooked. 'We made a mistake. We want to help you.'"

The group protesting outside City Hall Tuesday night is also calling on Moline city officials for help.

"They're good people, and they've been robbed by unscrupulous people," said JD Moon who's taken classes with Indigo Wellness Studios. "I think the right thing needs to be done here. And they need some retribution. ... Fix it."

Dee Canfield has been taking classes with the Morans since 2006. 

"It's just made such a difference in my health, and my well being. Being my age, and being able to be as mobile and as active as I am is directly credited to their studio and the yoga that I've learned from them," Canfield said. "They're such good people. And for them to have to experience what they're experiencing, it's really a miscarriage of justice. ... People's livelihoods are going down the tubes."

In a letter sent to the Morans Monday, Jan. 10 from the city's corporate counsel, Margaret Kostopulos, the city outlined and explained why it holds no liability. Instead, the city says it's "the responsibility of others in the construction process and not the City."

It goes on to say that the building as constructed was "structurally safe" and met the requirement of being built to a "reasonable level of safety, public health and general welfare" standard.

The letter reads in part:

"The code, though, does not define 'hot yoga,' does not set minimum building or mechanical inspection standards for the particular intended purpose of 'hot yoga,' nor is there an inspection requirement for 'hot yoga' use."

"The claims lawyer confirmed that no duty existed on the part of the City to ensure that the appropriate mechanical equipment for 'hot yoga' studios was chosen and further concluded that the City has no liability."

"The City, Mayor Rayapati and other elected officials understand your frustration and the extreme financial burden this situation has caused you. They are willing to assist in any appropriate way, but the City cannot authorize a payment to you for a situation that was not its cause, despite your need and its desire to help."

Moran is worried he's now going to lose his 16-year-old business, and said he's running out of options. They've taken out a second mortgage on their house, and still owe the third of a million dollar bank loan, so paying for restoration work again will be difficult, and a realtor also advised against selling the building.

"It's not like we can just go somewhere else and open up somewhere else. We'd love to. It's just not an option. Our finances, we're still paying for this building for forever until we either go bankrupt or somebody admits, 'Yes, our insurance needs to help you rectify this,'" Moran said. "We've been exhausting every resource that we can. Can we just get out of this mess and not end up bankrupt? It's insane. A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of stress, PTSD. We're on the verge of insanity."

Moline City Administrator Bob Vitas told News 8 he will be meeting with the Morans next week to further discuss and explore possible solutions with them.