When the new Billings Public Library opened in January, the grand opening for its main entrance, courtyard and parking garden was set for June 30.
Instead, this week, patrons are still funneled through a one-person-at-a-time back door on Sixth Avenue while a pile of rubble sits in front of the not-yet-open main entrance. The sidewalk is blocked on the west side of Broadway with a high chain link fence that encircles the delayed demolition project. The old library building looks like a bombed-out brick shell. It has been an eyesore for months.
Sorting out who is responsible financially for this costly mess will take a while.
The two imperatives for city leaders are clear:
- Get the project completed properly as soon as possible.
- Protect taxpayers from footing bills for mistakes made by businesses the city contracted with to design and build the new library.
City Administrator Tina Volek and Library Director Bill Cochran seem to understand those responsibilities. We will hold them accountable for fulfilling them.
Last week, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality approved a plan for removing tons of debris that might be contaminated with asbestos. Cochran said the general contractor now expects the entire library project will be completed in mid-October. That’s four months behind the original schedule.
Workers with trucks and giant haul-away bins were on the demolition site this week. Eventually, they will have to empty the old library’s basement of all debris and replace it with gravel. The project design called for using debris in the basement for a French drain, but the plan wasn’t approved by DEQ. In May, the agency’s inspectors pointed out that the debris fill plan doesn’t meet state regulations.
DEQ was on site May 29 because it received complaints that asbestos materials were not properly removed and had been mixed with other debris.
Before demolition began, questions were raised about whether all asbestos in the old building had been identified. On advice from the project design team led by architect Will Bruder, the city bid asbestos identification and removal as a separate contract from the demolition and construction.
Northern Industrial Hygiene found more asbestos, which Safetech removed, but then the demolition subcontractor, LM Excavating, found more. The demolition slowed again and again as suspect material was found, tested and removed.
It’s unclear who initially discovered asbestos in the untested debris and when that happened. However, problems mounted as work went on and tons more debris was mixed into the basement. All of it now has to be removed for hazardous material disposal.
While attorneys wrangle over financial responsibility for the delay and added costs – which could exceed $1 million — the general contractor, Jackson Contractor Group, should move forward as quickly as possible.
The silver lining around the demolition morass is the early success of the beautiful new library next door. Despite demolition, pedestrian detours and limited parking, people of all ages are flocking to their library in greater numbers than ever before.
The people of Billings deserve to be proud of their support for literacy, they deserve the beautiful library grounds were promised.