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Asbestos discovered in library ceilings

Removal planned, but building determined safe for patron usage

ALPENA — Instead of starting on anticipated building renovations as planned, Alpena County Library officials have been handed a significant curve ball. In the course of conducting an environmental assessment in preparation for the major renovations, asbestos has been discovered in more than 30,000 square feet of ceiling space.

With that news in hand, library officials also had the air quality throughout the building tested by Environmental and Asbestos Services of Alpena and determined there is no sign of asbestos in the air.

“We have been assured that the library is safe,” said Director Eric Magness-Eubank. “Asbestos is dangerous when it is breathed in over a long period of time. We have tested the air throughout the library and found no sign of asbestos in the air which patrons and staff breathe.”

The library was constructed in 1973-74 when asbestos was commonly used as a spray on texture for ceilings. According to Magness-Eubank, asbestos was banned in 1977, but no one realized until the environmental assessment that the substance had been used on both the upper and lower level textured ceilings. The newer portion of the library, where the meeting rooms and children’s programs take place, has never had asbestos.

Now, instead of moving forward with the renovations as originally intended, the library plans to begin removal of the substance. Magness-Eubank said that as long as the ceilings remained intact there would be no issue with the asbestos entering into the air, but that the renovations will involve cutting into the ceiling to install new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems as well as new lighting.

Because both the asbestos removal and renovations are expected to be extremely disruptive to normal library services, he said the library will be working with architects and engineers to tackle both in the same general time frame.

Estimated cost of the asbestos removal is $250,000.

“We have been told to expect the removal to cost between $7 and $10 a square foot,” Magness-Eubank said. “We have over 30,000 square feet. Our best guess is around $250,000, but it could go higher.”

The library had received a capital improvement grant from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs for the renovation project, but permission has been granted to use those funds instead for the asbestos removal. The library also has been setting aside funds and raising money for the renovation project, that also includes reconfiguring existing space to make it more efficient and addressing some safety concerns.

Removal work on two small, self-contained sections of the library is slated to begin on Monday. Those sections are located away from the main areas of the building and will not impact daily operations.

The bulk of the removal will take much longer to complete, however.

“Because of how disruptive the removal process is, the bulk of the removal will take place during the large-scale renovation project sometime in the next two years,” Magness-Eubank said.

The initial removal work starting next week will help determine how difficult the removal will be and how much it will all cost. He said it is a difficult process that involves sealing off the sections being worked on from the rest of the library. All contents of the area – such as shelving, furniture, equipment and books – must be removed from the space.

“The air pressure is lowered in that area in order to prevent material from escaping,” Magness-Eubank said. “The air outside the area is monitored to make sure that no asbestos is escaping. There is an airlock that the removal crew goes in and out.”

Light fixtures in the ceiling also are removed. Then the ceiling is wet down and the material scraped off by hand. After this, a wire brush is used on the concrete surface until there is no sign of asbestos remaining.

“It is a hard, slow, expensive process, and one that is extremely disruptive of library services,” he said.

As director, Magness-Eubank wants to assure patrons that the library remains a safe space to frequent and that if at any point it is determined otherwise appropriate steps will be taken.

“We have been told the library will be completely safe during the removal process,” he said. “We plan on being open during the fall of 2017. If the contractors tell us at any time that we will need to close, we will do so. During the large-scale project, we will be probably be closed at times, but it is too early to think about that now.”

He also said the library plans to keep the public informed as the work progresses. Copies of the air quality test results currently are available at the library’s website, www.alpenalibrary.org.

Diane Speer can be reached via email at dspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5691. Follow Diane on Twitter ds_alpenanews.

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