The half-demolished Billings Parmly Library will stand a few more weeks as crews wait for equipment to access the building’s basement.
In compliance with Department of Environmental Quality directives, workers have been removing piles of debris containing asbestos from the area immediately around the library.
But progress has slowed getting debris from the building’s basement, said Bill Cochran, the Billings Library director.
A curtain of rebar and unstable concrete on the west side of the building has prevented crews from getting into the basement safely, and crews will sit idle as they wait for a machine that can hack through it.
“There’s no equipment on the site right now that can get through it,” Cochran said.
The only machine capable of taking down the rebar, which is spaced every 8 inches, is in Missoula and getting it to Billings and removing the steel could take three weeks and cost about $20,000.
“It will add in quite a bit of expense to the project,” Cochran said.
The delay may also push the completion date closer to November than October, as previously planned.
The removal of materials from the basement was required because when a piece of the demolition subcontractor’s equipment plummeted through the floor of the building, it could have taken asbestos-containing materials with it, he said.
No one was hurt in the incident, but the DEQ worries that when the excavator drove back and forth on the first floor’s slab it made asbestos-containing mastic friable. To make sure no asbestos gets into the air, all debris must be removed.
Lead contractor Jackson Contractor Group appealed the DEQ’s requirement, arguing that debris removal wasn’t necessary. They requested to leave the debris in the basement while demolition goes ahead, but their appeal was denied.
Easier-to-reach piles of debris above ground have been also been sent to the hazardous materials section of the landfill over the last few days, but during the wait for the shearing machine crews could sit idle.
The plan is still forming and talks between the contractor and the library continue, but as the completion date creeps into November, Cochran worries that the asphalt parking lot could remain gravel until spring.
“It’s not been what we expected for the schedule,” he said.
As the project drags on, the library will continue to use unobligated library funds to expedite the project, but who will ultimately pay is still unclear, he said. “There is going to have to be a reconciliation through the contractor, insurance and legal review.”
Even though the project has dragged on, he said patrons have been flocking to the library.
In the first quarter of 2014, new library cards are up 250 percent over 2013 and he is grateful library visitors have been so cooperative. “They have been very patient and understanding,” he said.