Modest amounts of asbestos were found in the building the county recently bought and is renovating into a Palm Coast substation for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. Additional, unexpected renovations will delay the building’s readiness.
A Sept. 13 report from Universal Engineering Sciences, the Jacksonville building inspection and environmental sciences county government hired to conduct testing in and around the building, concluded that chrystolite, non-friable asbestos was found in the black exterior window caulking of the 4,500 square-foot building that used to be a Wachovia Bank at 14 Palm Harbor Village Way, off Old Kings Road (across from the Staples shopping center).
The building is the property and responsibility of county government, which is also the landlord at the troubled Sheriff’s Operations Center, evacuated since June because of environmental risks it posed to more than two dozen sheriff’s employees. The employees complained of and exhibited several ailments associated with sick-building syndrome.
The county commission approved an $875,000 purchase of the old Wachovia Bank building in May so the sheriff could move the Palm Coast substation from City Marketplace, where the sheriff has been paying rent for five years, to a permanent base for that precinct. At the time, County Administrator Craig Coffey told the commission that renovation costs would total $100,000. He now expects renovation costs to top $300,000, including the cost of remediating the asbestos, though he said that portion of the work would amount to less than $1,000.
The deadline for completing the building’s renovation was Dec. 1, enabling the sheriff to move in at the end of his current lease at City Marketplace. That deadline will have to be pushed into the new year, with the sheriff going month-to-month on the lease from December forward.
“If we find a problem, we address the problem. If it’s not constructed right, we want to construct it right,” Coffey said, even if it’s more expensive upfront. The county manages 1.1 million square feet of space, including all the spaces for constitutional officers, 750,000 square feet of it climate-controlled.
The new substation was not inspected for asbestos before the county bought it.
“As part of every building we buy we do a phase I audit, the phase I audit is typically to research the history of the building and say, OK, this came up, and we might need to do what’s called a phase two which kind of investigates what comes up in phase I,” Coffey said. “We didn’t do asbestos because of the age of the building but then we went ahead and backed up and did asbestos.” The building was built in 1990, past the years when asbestos was commonly found in buildings. The reason the county went ahead with re-testing: “Just because of all the stuff we’re going through in the sheriff’s building, it’s like let’s check some more boxes, and that’s what we did,” Coffey said.
Universal conducted the testing on Sept. 10. No building plans and no other material information were provided regarding the building. “Four percent (4%) Chrysolite Asbestos was found in the black exterior window caulking. No asbestos was detected in any of the other samples obtained from the building,” Universal’s Lindsey Weaver, a licensed asbestos consultant, and Christopher Komatz, a Universal project manager, wrote the county’s Tim Telfer on Sept. 13 in a cover letter to a 22-page report (see below).
Ceiling tiles, wallboard and joint compound, floor tile and wall texture material were also tested. None indicated the presence of asbestos.
The Universal report notes there are “numerous federal and state statutes, regulations, and rules which govern the abatement and disposal of ACMs,” or asbestos-containing materials. National Emission Standard for Hazardous Airborne Pollutants regulations require notification to the landlord and removal of all regulated asbestos containing materials prior to renovation, so the county at that point did not have a choice but to go ahead with remediation. Even though some remediation is exempt from federal regulations, “such exemption does not extend to OSHA standards or other state and federal statutes,” the Universal report states.
“You still have asbestos today in some of your tar and roof flashings and stuff like that, and it’s not prohibited in some products from being used still,” Coffey said. “Asbestos is not the end all, be all–because you have it somewhere doesn’t mean you’re dying of cancer next week. For the most part it’s fine as long as it stays within a product.” It’s when it becomes friable or goes through other processes that it becomes toxic.
Once the asbestos was detected at the future sheriff’s substation, “We notified DEP, we had a conversation with them, everything is fine. It’s just if you take out the windows, you’ve got to remediate it then, very minor, probably will be under $1,000 to remediate the caulk. If you do an expose on it, it’s not the end of the world, it’s a normal building thing.”
The sheriff’s office was not told of the asbestos until last week, after FlaglerLive began making inquiries about the matter and as of this week the sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge had not received the asbestos report. He’d spoken with Coffey on Monday about the issue, and was satisfied with Coffey’s explanation. “I have asked now for routine updates of what’s going on” he said. “We want every building that we’re in to be safe. Every building can be made safe is what I’ve learned in this process.”
Initially the county was not going to replace the windows at the old bank building, but found that replacing them would work better with the design of the building. The county is also replacing the tile roof, which had active leaks. “We found some substandard construction, we’re ripping all that out, putting quality construction in,” Coffey said. The county has also applied for a state grant to “harden” the building.
Of the additional needed renovations, the administrator said: “It’s always something. No project ever goes perfect.”