Even with all the talk about expanding debt service for recent construction and the need to set aside funds annually for maintenance and repair of existing facilities, Sampson’s public works director said the cost does not stop when a building is paid off and its useful life is finished.
One particular example with which the county is now dealing is the old County Home on Rowan Road, which is infested with asbestos and “needs to come down,” officials said.
The structure needs to first be rid of concealed asbestos, which does not currently pose a problem but must undergo a costly removal process. If the building was razed as is, a safety hazard and tremendous liability would result when the substance becomes airborne.
The asbestos has to be specially-handled and disposed of by certified crews. The issue of building demolition was discussed in early 2012, and Sampson Public Works director Lee Cannady said the process began in earnest last summer. The asbestos was known to be a possibility, but was not actually confirmed until recently.
Cannady broke the news to the Board of Commissioners during a recent session.
“Even if you’ve got the life out of your building, sometimes you still have an expense to get rid of what you’ve got there,” Cannady told them. “There’s a nasty word over there that we all knew, and we did a good job trying to handle, but there’s asbestos in the building. It has to be removed.”
Asbestos was discovered in the plaster ceilings and wall, pipe insulation in the crawlspace, vinyl floor coverings and the heating system. “Asbestos is not a problem until you go messing with it,” said Cannady. “It was there and we had concealed it. The problem is when you start tearing that up.”
The old County Home, a two-story brick structure measuring about 16,000 square feet, is located on the County Complex on Rowan Road and formerly housed the Cooperative Extension Service, the Department of Aging, Head Start and Public Works.
The asbestos was a costly discovery.
“It’s going to cost us more to get rid of the asbestos than it is to (demolish the building),” said Cannady. “If I had to estimate right now what it would cost the county to tear down that facility, clean the facility up before you tear it down and landfill fees, we’re talking about $180,000.”
Cannady said he did not see a great deal of salvageable materials, but conceded that somebody’s junk might be another’s treasure. Commissioner Albert Kirby said it would be worth at least gauging the public interest before moving forward with demolition. Commissioner Jefferson Strickland agreed.
“It’s worthy of trying to see if there is anyone out there who has an interest in that building,” said Strickland.
Of the estimated $180,000 total cost, Cannady said it would be around $50,000 just to remove the asbestos. To tear the building down and haul off the debris, it would cost another $50,000, with the remaining $70,000 to $80,000 price tag on associated landfill fees.
Kirby asked whether there would be any safety issues with employees in surrounding buildings while crews worked to remove the asbestos. Cannady said one of the firms he has spoken with actually removed the substance from a building while employees were still working under the same roof. The old County Home is currently vacant.
“Lung cancer comes from asbestos being airborne,” said finance officer David Clack. “Any time it’s disturbed — removed or torn down and hauled away — the fibers float free and people breathe them.”
Commissioner agreed across the board that the asbestos should be removed.
Strickland said there should be some type of ceremony that paid tribute to the rich past of what he called “a historical building.” He also noted the small cemetery that is also owned and maintained by the county, where some tenants were buried.
“It was called the Old Age Home, then the Old County Home,” said Strickland. “I’m not saying don’t tear it down, but the point is the emotion is there and we should remember the building in some way.”
Assistant county manager Susan Holder said a marker could be placed at the site following demolition.
“From years of working with historical buildings, that is a building that needs to come down,” said county manager Ed Causey. “I would encourage the board, whatever you do, to proceed to do it in the least obtrusive manner possible.”
Causey said he has seen similar situations where, when outside groups become involved, the building stands for another 20 years and the problem is not abated. Cannady concurred that the county should move quickly.
“Whatever your direction is, we’ll carry it out,” he said, “but you’ve got a liability there. The quicker you can do it and get out, the better off we’ll be in whatever means you see for us to do it. It is a problem. My intention was to come before you and ask for direction a long time before now, but we really need to do something about the building.”
Clack noted that $230,000 was previously set aside to tear the building down and clean up.
“It takes more time to save money. Even though we have $200,000 set aside, if we can save the majority of that by taking a little more time, then I’m for that,” said Kirby. “I’m not saying I want to spend taxpayers’ money to do it real quick because we think somebody might have heartache about this building coming down. It’s ridiculous.”
Causey said county officials could also talk to Waste Industries representatives to see whether they could take off the debris for a minimal cost.
“The biggest cost to all this would be landfill fees,” said Cannady. “There’s somewhere around 2,180 tons of debris that has to be put somewhere. If you do quick math at $30 (a ton), that’s about a $70,000 to 80,000 fee to get rid of the debris.”
The Board of Commissioners directed the county to “move expeditiously” in soliciting bids for proper removal and disposal of asbestos. The board also discussed having staff inquire about a reduction or waiving of the landfill fees should the county demolish it. However, if there is interest from the community in the structure, following asbestos removal, the county would deal with those inquiries as they are presented.
Asbestos removal should be top priority for the time being, Cannady noted.
“If I was going to do anything, first I would remove the bad stuff,” said Cannady. “That’s something you’ve got to do to even get the permit to demo it. That’s a necessary evil. And once you start removing it, you’re not going to want it to set there.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.