Asbestos blamed for cost overruns with school project
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Asbestos removal has put the Aspen School District’s construction project $1.3 million over budget, and has delayed the demolition of an old building until after school starts, officials said this week.
Dave Detwiler, project manager for the Aspen School District, said at Tuesday’s school board work session that the unexpected cost of asbestos removal could hinder the district’s ability to fully complete a playground on the site of the old Aspen Middle School, which won’t be torn down until this fall.
The multimillion-dollar construction project calls for a new middle school, five new classrooms at Aspen Elementary School and the replacement of mechanical equipment at the Aspen District Theatre. Paid for by a $33 million bond that voters approved in 2005, the projects were completed early, and without the asbestos removal they would have been on budget, Detwiler said.
Although one round of asbestos removal was completed at the old middle school decades ago, cleaning up the remaining asbestos is proving more difficult than the district expected.
Many years ago, the school district won a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the asbestos fire-proofing used in the old middle school, according to Detwiler. It used the money to clean up “the asbestos they could get to” at that time, he said, but he noted that the district couldn’t knock down all the walls and still have school. So now the asbestos must be removed from the interior walls.
In addition, when the district passed the bond, neither federal nor state asbestos abatement regulations required special removal for vermiculite, a naturally occurring substance which was used for insulation in the elementary school’s outside walls.
But recently, the state of Colorado implemented regulations requiring vermiculite to be removed by specially trained and equipped workers, citing groundwater concerns.
So “the little white fluffy stuff you used to get in potting soil,” which fills all the walls of the old middle school, must now be vacuumed out before the building can be demolished, said Detwiler. There is still no federal ban against vermiculite, he added.
In January, the district hired ESA Inc., a Denver-based contractor, to complete the removal so the old middle school could be demolished by the beginning of this summer. However, as work has proceeded, the abatement company has continued to find more and more asbestos in the building, causing cost increases and delays Detwiler said. The current bill for the removal is $1.5 million and climbing.
“That’s kind of the hand we were dealt,” Detwiler said.
The company now estimates it will finish its asbestos removal just before school begins. That means demolition of the building, and the crushing and hauling of the material, will have to be completed while school is in session.
On Tuesday, the board was in general agreement with Superintendent Diana Sirko’s suggestion to attempt the demolition during regular construction hours, but cease if the noise interferes with classroom activities. The contractor is willing to work in the evenings and on weekends, said Detwiler, but doing so will delay the project and could increase costs.
The demolition is expected to take two or three weeks, and Detwiler estimated the hauling would be done by the end of October.
But he also noted that all time estimates depend on whether more asbestos is found and whether the contractor is able to work regular hours.
The asbestos removal has not only delayed the project, it has also pushed it
Detwiler said about $1.8 million remains in the fund balance, leaving a project shortfall of nearly $1.3 million. He said he expected to be able to complete asbestos removal, the demolition of the middle school, the sound system at the theater. However, he expressed concern about finding the money to complete all the planned improvements at the playground scheduled to be built on the site of the old middle school.
Detwiler also said he is worried about paying for two additional projects that were not part of the original bond scope, but which the district feels ought to be completed.
One is replacing a section of old roofing still on the elementary school, at a cost of $400,000. Though 70 percent of the elementary school roof, and all roofing over classrooms, was replaced with bond funds, the district had made repairs on a section over the front entry and around the theater, in an attempt to save money. Leaks last winter made it clear the fixes have not been effective, said Detwiler.
Detwiler said of the roofing project that he could “still pull it off this year,” if the money could be found.
The district also needs to complete additional grading at the elementary school
playground, in order to minimize flooding.
Sirko thought the district might be able to tap into two additional funds, which must be use for capital improvements, to complete at least some of the work.
She also suggested the board would have some time over the winter to decide
whether elements of the playground could be delayed or dismissed. Although asphalt may be poured on the site this fall, if the demolition is completed in time, the playground is not scheduled to be built until next spring or summer.
On a positive note for the project, Detwiler announced Tuesday that the LEED certification application for the new Aspen Middle School has been submitted.
Detwiler said he is confident the Aspen Middle School will receive a silver certification, but he is “keeping fingers crossed” for gold.
If Aspen Middle School did achieve LEED gold status, Detwiler thought it would be the first gold-rated middle school built in the state of Colorado. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
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