On the second floor of the Spencer Center, everything is now barren — rooms are vacant, floors ripped up, walls stripped. The sole decorations are large red Xs, hastily sprayed on nearly every wall.
These Xs denote the fate of demolition, due to the presence of asbestos.
The Spencer Center, located on the corner of Tejon and Cache la Poudre Streets, houses the offices of several of the school’s administrative branches. As one of the oldest buildings on campus, there are plans to renovate it this year.
As it turns out, asbestos is everywhere on campus.
Before planned renovations can truly commence at the Spencer Center, all of the marked walls must undergo the painstaking and costly process of abatement – the removal of asbestos containing materials, known as ACMs.
This asbestos removal has become a routine procedure for all renovation projects at the college, due to the fact that almost every building on campus contains some form of asbestos.
In fact, according to Colorado College’s Deputy Director of Facilities, Will Wise, every single renovation or demolition project completed in his 25 years at the school has involved some type of abatement.
“Every time we do any type of remodel or construction whatsoever, that’s the first thing we do. We go in and test for asbestos,” said Wise. “Unfortunately it’s absolutely everywhere. Over the years, it has just become something we expect.”
The sheer amount of asbestos in the Spencer Center, however, was not anticipated, according to Rick Greene, the On-Site Project Manager.
On the second floor alone they have identified a total of 20,539 square feet of ACMs, all of which must be removed in accordance to the law.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was frequently used in building materials from the 1950s to the late 1970s, due to its flame retardant qualities.
This was until production was banned in the United States in 1978 after the discovery that long-term exposure of the airborne particles can cause serious adverse health effects, mainly in the respiratory system.
Health risks only occur if the material containing asbestos is friable, meaning it can crumble and be reduced to dust with the potential to be inhaled.
These impending risks were not known when most of our school’s buildings were constructed or renovated throughout the mid-twentieth century; therefore, asbestos is common in tiles, walls, glue, and insulation all around campus.
“Now we’re dealing with it,” Wise said, lamenting past ignorance that is now costing our school upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars with each renovation project.
Campus Facilities has identified the location of all asbestos in school buildings and maintain that it is harmless to the members of the community since none of it is friable.
Even though these non-friable materials do not threaten health, problems arise during renovations and demolitions, when the materials may become friable.
When renovations occur, the school is required by state law to hire approved contractors to perform a complete asbestos abatement. This is mainly to protect renovation workers, but also to prevent the contamination of the surrounding area.
The process is incredibly complicated and costs are high.
The most recent project requiring abatement was last year’s renovation of Slocum Hall where the bill amounted to around $200,000. The price of the current Spencer Center abatement is yet to be determined since it is calculated based on time and material.
The removal and disposal of asbestos naturally requires intense precautionary measures and Campus Facilities makes sure the job is done carefully and correctly.
“The college is pretty socially responsible for the way they handle it and we hire good contractors. We’re doing a good job I think, better than some,” Greene said.
The basement area currently being treated in the Spencer Center is completely sealed. The workers wear personal respirators and protective suits. Upon exit of the sealed area they strip and shower to remove any contaminants.
The work zone must be checked constantly to confirm there is no asbestos in the air.
Everything removed from the building is double bagged, labeled as hazardous material, taken to a sealed dumpster, and stored there until a truck takes it to a nearby landfill.
The 40-square-foot dumpster positioned outside Spencer is already half full. Greene predicts that more than fifteen of these dumpsters will be filled by the end of the project.
It is estimated that abatement will be completed by mid-January with all the renovations wrapping up by August.
At that time, the Spencer Center will open again as an administrative building still holding the offices of Human Resources, Communications, and Development, while adding the offices of Information Management and President Tiefenthaler.