ALPENA — Alpena County Library has reached roughly the halfway point in its asbestos removal project. The abatement work on the second floor of the 45-year-old building has been completed, with library officials still finalizing plans for tackling the lower level.
Asbestos was discovered last year in the ceilings during an environmental assessment conducted in preparation for major renovations at the library that were to include new heating, cooling and ventilation systems. Once the toxic material was identified, further testing by Environmental and Asbestos Services of Alpena determined there was no sign of asbestos in the air that patrons and staff breathe, making the library safe for normal usage.
“Our intent last fall was to basically announce the first of two renovations where the first was renovation of the air conditioning system to something larger,” Director Eric Magness-Eubank said. “The asbestos blew a $200,000 hole in that and knocked us six months off our timeline.”
Instead of moving forward with the planned renovations, library officials began tackling the asbestos removal. They started on the second floor, where the material was found mainly in the Special Collections area.
Shelving, furnishings, light fixtures and all materials in the collections were removed and relocated to another area on the second floor. The Special Collections area was then sealed off from the rest of the building so the removal work could begin.
That half of the project is completed. Library officials now are working through the options for eliminating asbestos on the main level and doing the planned renovations. Magness-Eubank said the work still could be two to three years down the road, so there are no immediate plans for a temporary closure of the facility.
He said because both the asbestos removal and the planned renovations will be disruptive to library services, the library’s board of trustees is looking at possibilities for doing both at the same time.
“We’re trying to minimize spending money on the same thing twice and the amount of time the library is torn up,” Magness-Eubank said.
Also under consideration is adding a larger unit to the existing air conditioning system in the more immediate future since the library faces serious humidity issues that negatively impact its collections.
“We’re currently using water from the fountain as a coolant and that water isn’t cool enough to control the humidity,” he said. “We need better humidity control. The current cooling system is doing damage.”
It is believed the larger unit can be installed now without disturbing any of the ceiling containing the asbestos, but library officials are still gathering information to make sure that is factual.
Both the asbestos abatement and renovations are expected to be costly. Magness-Eubank said the library already has $1 million on hand to put toward the work, but additional funds will be needed. The library also is pursuing grant funding to help cover the projects.
The library was constructed in 1973-74 when asbestos was commonly used as a spray-on texture for ceilings. Asbestos was banned in 1977, but no one realized until last year’s 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 progams take place, has never had asbestos.
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