County on the hook for asbestos cleanup at old hospital
Whatever the county decides to do with the old hospital — remodel, destroy or sell — it will be on the hook for approximately $200,000 in remediation costs to take care of 15,000 square feet of asbestos recently found in the structure.
The good news is that because the county used a federal grant to have the assessment performed, there is a chance federal money would be available to pay for that remediation, but that is not a guarantee.
Whichever direction the Stillwater County Commissioners decide to go, nothing will happen anytime soon.
County Economic Development Coordinator Marissa Hauge obtained the grant and last week told the commissioners, Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde and Facilities Supervisor Jerry Bokma that because the grant cycle for the Environmental Protection Agency had just completed for the year, money would not be available until December 2018.
Davey said that time-span was longer than what she had thought when the process of obtaining an assessment of the building was started a few months back. Hauge explained it is a 2-step process — Phase 1 is the assessment of the old hospital to determine if any hazards exist and Phase 2 is the remediation of those hazards.
The assessment was conducted in early March by Weston Solutions, Inc. Samples analyzed by Reservoirs Environmental Inc. in Denver, Colo., revealed asbestos in 14,760 square feet of drywall throughout the building, 5,150 square feet of floor tile or mastic, 1,500 square feet of plaster in the northeast rooms plus pipe insulation, pipe joints, pipe sealant, stair tread, linoleum and a vibration dampener, according to the draft report.
Also found were elevated lead concentrations on the walls, stairs and exterior trim of the building, mercury and mold, all of which were noted as “COC (contaminants of concern) at the site.”
DISTURBANCE OF ABESTOS
At a meeting last week, Bokma said he had done some research and learned that as long as the asbestos-containing material is not disturbed, there is no health issue. However, during the past two years or so, demolition work has been conducted.
“Everything that we’ve taken out is an issue,” asked Stillwater County Commissioner Mark Crago in reference to material that Bokma and his crews have already broken-down and removed.
“Right,” said Bokma.
Stillwater County Commissioner Maureen Davey, through Hauge, has asked for a clarification from Weston regarding the safety of Bokma and his crews being in the building. Specifically, Davey said she suspects the inspectors were aware that Bokma and staff were working in the building because they were present during the inspections.
However, on the report, the building was listed as “vacant.”
“So they’re under the impression that we aren’t in there,” said Crago, to which Hauge answered yes.
Weston’s answer to the request for clarification was that more testing would need to be done to determine if there was a “risk to facility personnel” who are currently working in the building.
Rohde said that work had been done in the building without permitting, creating even further issues.
In a letter to the commissioners and Bokma delivered last week, Rohde outlined specific laws about the permitting process mandated in an “asbestos project” which is heavily regulated at both the federal and state level.
“Without going into specific details about what has or has not been done in the old hospital, I am advising you there is the potential for the County to encounter very large fines which accumulate daily ($25,000.00/day) if there is continued activity within the old hospital that DEQ deems an “asbestos project.” I further advise that DEQ has the ability to impose criminal penalties as well if the Department believes that one is knowingly or purposely violating Title 75 or the associated rules,” Rohde stated in her letter.
ANOTHER POSSIBLE SAFETY ISSUE
A question raised in the Weston report dealt with possible issues related to mold in the new Extension Office. That office is located in the basement of the “West Annex,” which was remodeled to house five county offices — Extension, Superintendent of Schools, Planning, Economic Development and Environmental Health.
The Weston report notes that it was unable to conduct air quality samples anywhere but the old hospital.
The concern centers on a furnace that may or may not be bringing contaminants into the Extension Office. All of the county offices located in the West Annex, as well as the Meadowlark Assisted Living Center, are being tested as a precaution.
ARCHITECT'S STATEMENT BECOMES RELEVANT
Five months ago, Spectrum Group Architects told the Stillwater County Commissioners that if abatement and other unexpected costs in the remodeling of the old hospital for county office space hit the $140,000 mark, the county would be on the cusp of losing the financial advantage of remodeling versus building a new structure at that same location.
And, if the new structure was built at a location the county already owned with utilities, “it would be a wash at that point,” said architect Gary Levine.
Levine said “if we run into anything, it’s probably going to be more than $20,000, it’s going to be under $100,000…assuming it’s low-grade and it’s not just everywhere.”
WHY SPECTRUM MATTERS
Spectrum Group Architects was hired in 2012 to conduct a feasibility study to see if the old hospital could be remodeled to accommodate county offices currently housed in an aged and crowded courthouse. After several county officials — chiefly 22nd Judicial District Judge Blair Jones — voiced concerns that only one option was being considered, the study was expanded to eventually include four or five possible options.
The county paid Spectrum $75,412.88 for that feasibility study.