The cost of removing asbestos from the old Parmly Library before demolishing it keeps growing, and Library Director Bill Cochran hopes the price tag doesn’t reach — as it could — seven figures.
On Friday afternoon, Cochran was awaiting word from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality on whether the agency will require asbestos abatement from what’s still standing at the old library, which is a significant portion of the old facility. If that’s the case — and Cochran has been told it’s unlikely — it’ll cost an additional $3 to $5 million — and add a year to the already-delayed demolition and parking garden construction project.
Cochran received no calls from Helena during a mid-Friday-afternoon interview.
As the tab stands now, the most recent round of asbestos abatement is expected to cost $404,122. Cochran plans to report to the Billings City Council on Aug. 11 on the abatement and demolition work that’s been done as well as what remains to be done.
That figure is on top of two earlier rounds of asbestos abatement — one completed last winter for about $76,800, which came in on time and under budget, and a second, unexpected and unbudgeted round of abatement, which amounted to about $67,000 and was completed and paid for about three months ago.
The library plans to pay for the most recent asbestos abatement work, which is about half completed, out of its reserve fund, as it also did for the second round, Cochran said.
But reserves will not cover an additional $3 million or $5 million worth of abatement, Cochran said. If the DEQ decides the project can instead proceed as planned, the parking garden will be constructed and opened before Halloween, Cochran predicted — “but that’s pushing it,” he said, and permission to proceed would have to be granted soon.
State environmental regulators have told Cochran and Kris Koessl, a construction manager who’s representing the city’s interest on the project, that before they can allow demolition to proceed they’ll require a detailed work plan including how the remaining asbestos will be handled as well as a single, chronological report of asbestos testing done by the project consultant, Northern Industrial Hygiene. The testing reports have been filed individually but now need to be aggregated into one narrative.
“This is pretty urgent for us,” Cochran said of the DEQ determination. “The parking garden was supposed to be dedicated in June.”
The parking garden is much more than a simple parking lot, he said. It includes the new library’s main and handicapped entrance, a drive-through book drop and a garden area that will connect to the new library’s Community Room, the library’s main meeting room.
“There are a number of functional issues” involved in any further delays, he said, including “the risk of people having to walk along 28th and 29th streets” past an area that’s been fenced off during the asbestos abatement and subsequent demolition, he said.
Cochran said the delays associated with asbestos abatement have churned this question around in his head: What would have happened if everything had been done correctly?
The heart of the problem, he said, was that by the time the DEQ learned of the plans for material for the old library being recycled into the parking garden’s foundation, it was after the time that asbestos abatement had already begun.
“The DEQ would have said we can’t do that,” he said, referring to the recycling plan. When two DEQ departments got involved — asbestos control and solid waste — the DEQ’s enforcement division was automatically triggered. That has meant that debris piles must be kept wet as part of the abatement process and that materials be taken to a special section of the landfill — where the charge is $88 per ton of materials, rather than the standard $15 per ton for construction waste.
On top of that, there’s a limit to how much suspected asbestos waste can be taken to the landfill each day.
Another delay: trying to remove material from the Parmly basement without possibly being clobbered by concrete hanging from rebar. That required a special piece of equipment called a shearer be brought in from Missoula, equipment that arrived Wednesday.
But Cochran, who has a second-story office, said he sees progress being made.
“If you look at the building from the 29th Street side, you can start to see the building being cleaned up,” he said. “They started that on Wednesday, and they estimate in two or three weeks the equipment will finish its work.”
“We don’t want anyone to be exposed to any risk, and that’s paramount,” he said of the work that remains to be done. “But we don’t want taxpayers to pay for any work that didn’t result from any errors or negligence on the part of the city. We have retained a number of firms to do all this work, and we’re trying to get it done safely and expeditiously.”