COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Pictured is the Old Three Rivers Hospital building Friday. The building is scheduled to have asbestos and lead paint abatement performed within the next couple of weeks, with the actual demolition of the building possibly happening later than anticipated due to potential requirements with federal funding.

Asbestos abatement on Old Hospital to begin within next few weeks

Federal funding requirements could possibly delay structure’s demolition by months

THREE RIVERS — A big milestone for the Old Hospital demolition project is expected to be reached soon, however the bigger milestone of having the building come down could possibly be delayed by at least a few months.

Three Rivers City Manager Joe Bippus confirmed in an interview Wednesday asbestos and lead paint abatement work on the structure will start in the next couple of weeks, when crews from Bay City, Mich.-based Dore and Associates will fence off the building and seal up the doors and windows to begin the process of removing what he called an “iconic eyesore” in the community.

Abatement is expected to take approximately six or seven weeks to finish, Bippus estimated, putting the start of any potential demolition of the building to late July at the earliest.

While the city is using some of their own funds to pay for the approximately $1 million project, Bippus also mentioned there has been some back and forth regarding requirements for the $750,000 in federal earmark money that could potentially be used for the project, requirements that could possibly delay the actual demolition of the structure by three to six months.

The potential hold-up is a requirement to perform a number of studies on the property, including an environmental study, historical study and archaeological study, in order to receive the full amount. Bippus said meetings with Michigan Sen. Gary Peters’ office about the funding have been “up and down” regarding the money and the requirements.

“One minute it looks hopeful that we can use the funds and then something else happens and it's questionable to use the funds,” Bippus said. “What might end up happening at this point is, the funds were used for two different purposes. One was for demolition and a portion can be used for redevelopment. We might not be able to use the funds for demolition because they want us to delay the project by three months or maybe six months to do some other studies on the property, and that would be disruptive to our contractor, and we'd probably lose the contract.”

Despite the hang-up with the demolition funding, Bippus said the abatement process will still move forward as scheduled. He said there could be a plan, however, to complete the studies that need to be done while the abatement is going on. That kind of a plan has not been approved or agreed to as of yet.

“We'll try to make more calls to see, but our hope was to do the environmental remediation work while we do the study. It hasn't been approved yet, and it might not get approved, but we'll keep working on it,” Bippus said.

A number of residents around the area have had concerns about how the abatement process is going to work and how it would affect the air quality of the neighborhood surrounding the Old Hospital. As part of the bid for Dore’s services, the city hired environmental consulting firm Envirologic to oversee the process and perform air monitoring to make sure asbestos or lead particles aren’t released into the air.

The actual process for abatement includes a number of preventative measures. Dore and Associates has to submit an abatement plan with the state first, then when on site, they are required to put plastic up over all of the openings in the building including every door and window. Hazmat suits will be worn inside by workers as they remove the lead and asbestos, and special containers will be used to place hazardous material into. Those containers are required to be completely sealed when they’re removed from the building so no particles get released.

Another concern is the project’s coinciding with the annual Water Festival, expected to begin June 16. Bippus said while there may be fences up and equipment around, the city will not permit the company to do work during the festival.

While Dore and Associates were the low bidder for the project, in a January report to the city before the bid was approved, Envirologic, who helped the city with the bidding process, stated there were “concerns” with all three of the low bidders, mentioning specifically concerns with Dore’s compliance history.

“There are concerns with all three of the low bids, which will need to be resolved by robust oversight of the contractors—particularly during the asbestos abatement phase,” David Stegink of Envirologic wrote in the memo to the city. “While Envirologic has concerns with [Dore’s] compliance history, it is hoped that strong oversight will compel their crews to conduct the work in a fashion that meets all regulatory requirements.”

One of the more recent compliance issues with Dore was back in early 2021, all of which were corrected during the inspection and had to do with emergency rules in place with COVID-19, a worker performing demolition of overhead concrete without wearing head protection, and violations relating to an oxygen tank not being properly restrained in a work truck.

When asked if he was confident Dore would do the job properly, Bippus said the company is still an “acceptable firm and contractor for the work.”

“We wanted to make sure that they were a qualified company, and as we did our background we noticed they had violations in the past, but they were currently still an acceptable firm and contractor for the work. We decided to move forward with them,” Bippus said. “We also noticed other contractors in our bidding also had different violations that they've paid and taken care of on other jobs, but that's why we're hiring an additional environmental firm outside of Dore to watch what's going on and make sure they follow their plan.”

Overall, Bippus said he was “90 percent” confident that the demolition will go as planned, despite the concerns around the funding situation, and that the area will “look so much nicer” when the demolition is complete.

“I'm very curious to see what the hillside looks like when the building is gone. I think the natural beauty of the park will continue to show through and be even more enhanced-looking,” Bippus said. “The riverfront, the whole area will look so much nicer.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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