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After months of waiting, the site of the old Parmly Billings Library building could transform from a post-apocalyptic frame to bustling work site as early as Friday.

Permits issued by the Montana State Department of Environmental Quality will allow Safetech, Inc., the asbestos abatement contractor, to get back to work removing piles of rubble contaminated with asbestos sitting on the site.

"They submitted their demolition permit," said Lisa Peterson, public information officer for the Department of Environmental Quality. "That goes into effect on June 27." 

Workers wearing hazardous materials suits will use lined trucks to take away the existing rubble, along with the newly identified material that contains asbestos. After that, they will notify DEQ and the agency will reinstate the demolition notification, which means crews can continue to raze the building.

"They will contact us to bring it out of suspension when they’re ready to start demolishing in new areas," Peterson said. 

The project has been stagnant for about a month, as the inspector, contractor, library and DEQ make sure items are tested and rubble on the site stays moist to prevent dust potentially laced with asbestos from blowing off. 

The snags will require extra time and money to finish the project, but how much is still unclear, said Bill Cochran, Billings Public Library director. "At this point I don’t have any valid number."

He acknowledges the extra work will increase the new library's $20 million price tag.

The library will pay for the project with unobligated library cash reserves while details are sorted out. Who will ultimately pay those costs is still up for debate.

"I am not willing to acknowledge that the library has to pay all or any of those costs until we understand who did what and when," Cochran said.

The building's problems started in early April when asbestos was detected in the sealant of windows and adhesives. 

Removing all asbestos from the building debris was imperative because designers planned to fill the basement with the rubble. The idea was to use rainwater draining off the new building for irrigation. The system is called a French drain.

The hole now must be filled with gravel — an extra project expense — before it is turned into a parking lot, drive-through book drop, garden and an alternate entrance to the new library.

Losing the filler material also raised questions about whether the project would lose the highest LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certification. That probably won't happen, said Cochran. The gravel will be sourced locally, qualifying for LEED points.

Uninspected areas

The delays began in early April when it was discovered that the project's asbestos consultant, Northern Industrial Hygiene, had not tested materials in the garage and the fifth-floor penthouse, Cochran said. 

At that time materials in the garage and penthouse were inspected on NIT's dime. Asbestos-containing materials were also detected when a DEQ inspection turned up more untested materials on May 29.

How they were missed goes back to when the building was occupied. Putting holes in walls and ceilings was considered too invasive while workers occupied the space, so that was put off until after the building was empty.

The inspections of those areas only happened after the DEQ's May 29 inspection.

"The materials in the building have been fully tested," Cochran said. "That has been completed in the last week or two."

Who was at fault for not testing the areas and whether anyone noticed non-inventoried materials during demolition is unclear. 

Greg Hebner, vice president of Jackson Contractor Group, who hired subcontractor LM Excavating to tear down the building, said he had nothing to add from their earlier statements, and deferred to the city for new information. A person at LM Excavating also declined comment. 

"Their attorneys are helping them understand their different points of view," Cochran said.

An exact completion date hasn't been nailed down, but if there are no more hiccups work should wrap up by the fall. Cochran is resolute that the finished project will outweigh woes the delays caused. 

"More than anybody else we understand how inconvenient this is," he said. "It will be worth it when it’s done."

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Chris Cioffi covers city news for The Billings Gazette in Montana.