Last week, The Gazette reported that Billings Library Director Bill Cochran was awaiting a call from Helena to learn whether state regulators will require additional asbestos removal from the shell of the old Billings library.
On Wednesday, Department of Environmental Quality representatives said they were waiting to hear from Billings on next steps in the long-delayed demolition project.
Let’s stop waiting and start communicating. Communication is the key to finishing this past-deadline job safely and as quickly as possible.
DEQ received a work plan for the library project Tuesday afternoon. The plan “appears to be complete,” according to Deb Grimm, who heads the asbestos abatement division in Helena.
The state now awaits filing on the city’s behalf for an asbestos abatement permit and a demolition notice, Grimm told The Gazette.
The new work plan states that asbestos has been found in black mastic sealant on the fourth floor and in glue in the columns of the first floor, according to DEQ. That asbestos-contaminated material must be removed by a certified asbestos abatement contractor before the rest of the building can be demolished.
Next steps required
Based on a telephone interview Wednesday with Grimm and two other DEQ officials, the time line for moving forward must include these tasks:
First, the city’s contractor must finish removing the asbestos-contaminated debris already piled on site.
DEQ will require an inspection of the site when that work is complete, so the contractor must notify the agency a few days before the job is done so an inspection can be scheduled without further delaying the project.
Meanwhile, the city’s contractor must seek an asbestos abatement permit. State and federal regulations require a waiting period of 10 working days before a requested permit can be issued. That request must be made soon enough that the project is not further delayed by running out that mandatory waiting period.
The demolition notice must be issued before the rest of the building can finally be torn down. There’s no mandatory waiting period for this permit, but the paperwork must be filed properly and soon enough to avoid further delay.
At the rate this demolition is going, snow could be falling before the last old library wall does. Tearing down the old structure is just part of the unfinished library project. The library opened in January without the use of its main entrance, drive-up book drop, garden courtyard and parking lot.
Public safety hazards
Despite all those missing amenities, the number of people using the Billings Public Library has grown tremendously in the past seven months. A steady stream of readers rolls into the library’s back door along Sixth Avenue North. Many are using strollers, wheelchairs, walkers or canes and traveling blocks from where they had to park their vehicles. Sidewalks on Broadway and 29th Street are closed around the demolition site, so pedestrians are crossing in the middle of the block. All this adds up to a public safety hazard.
Months of tremendous public inconvenience were completely preventable. Plans for the demolition portion of the new library project failed to follow state regulations, so costly debris removal is being required. Failure to identify asbestos in earlier inspections has repeatedly delayed demolition.
The need for better communication is clear. The city’s contractors probably are fully aware of DEQ requirements, but that hasn’t prevented problems so far. We call on Cochran and City Administrator Tina Volek to be vigilant. Make sure the city’s project representative is bird dogging this daily.
The Billings Public Library must have its front door, sidewalks and parking lot open before snow returns and makes trips to the library treacherous.