Asbestos Delays Indiana Downtown Rejuvenation Program

The re-birth of downtown Gary, Indiana is going to have to wait a little longer. Though hundreds of thousands of dollars was already spent to remove asbestos from a crumbling 14-story former hotel, officials now say that there’s more asbestos remaining inside the old Sheraton than they had thought, delaying the project and angering officials who thought the eyesore would be demolished in its entirety very shortly.

An article in the Times of Northwest Indiana reports that the demolition of the once-thriving Sheraton Hotel now faces a major roadblock caused by the presence of a large amount of asbestos material. Gary, Indiana Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson had hoped the building would be gone shortly and dubbed it’s removal the first step in rejuvenating downtown Gary, which has been plagued by urban blight.

Questions have been raised about the exorbitant amount of grant money already spent five years ago to remove asbestos insulation, which was crumbling and had become quite dangerous. At that time, inspectors for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) reported that about 98 percent of the carcinogenic material had been removed.

Now, however, a recent inspection by James Harless, vice president and principal of the Soil and Material Engineers Inc. of Plymouth, Massachusetts, reports that “more than 60,000 square feet of asbestos remains embedded in concrete ceiling seams, textured paint on exterior walls, floor tiles, electric fixtures, window frames and the bo iler fireproofing.”

Harless estimated the cost of removing or sheathing the remaining asbestos to be as high as $1.3 million, a number that makes officials unhappy, especially since they believed the first contractor had completed the majority of the abatement.

"Our guy was there several times and checked it out," said IDEM spokesperson, Dan Goldblatt. "When IDEM signed off on its inspection, the building and contractor were in compliance.

"I know that 98 percent was quoted around. That may have been the case for the top floors, but likely not the amount cleared from the whole building. Whether they knew at the time that there was more asbestos than money to remove it, I don't know. IDEM was just there to make sure it was done properly," Goldblatt said.

Harless defended the originally contractor, noting that they purposely left an asbestos coating on the exterior and on the five-story parking garage because the structure was thought to be stable at the time. That’s no longer the case, say the experts.

"We found it's too friable to leave on," Harless said. "That's got to come off."

The city has asked the EPA for assistance with the project and awaits an answer.

Comments are closed.