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EPA to do Asa Wood demolition

| April 26, 2012 11:59 AM

It seems the walls may come tumbling down, anyway.

Those walls are the West Wing and Library of Asa Wood Elementary School. 

A month ago, Libby Schools Superintendent K.W. Maki sought assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency to raze what amounts to about two-fifths of the former elementary school located on the corner of Idaho and U.S. Highway 2.  The school closed last May after 50-plus years of service.

The plans to raze the walls, however, hit a snag when EPA official Bill Murray declared the agency would remove the vermiculite insulation from within the walls, but that’s where their duties would end.

However, all that has now changed.

After a meeting that began at 8 a.m. Wednesday, the EPA has relented, and it will first remove the vermiculite from the walls and then crews will dismantle those walls that contained the carcinogenic substance.

“We have established a partnership between the county, the school district and the EPA,” Victor Ketellapper, the EPA Libby Team Leader, said. 

When the EPA is complete, Lincoln County Road Department crews will begin their work on razing the remaining walls of the West Wing and Library only that do not contain vermiculite.

“Somehow people believe we’re going to take down the whole building,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Tony Berget for the Libby District. “I don’t know where people get this stuff.”

For his part, Berget was feeling a little better than 24 hours before when earlier plans had county crews also taking down walls that contained vermiculite — those walls that had been cleaned by the EPA.

“I don’t want to put our guys in harm’s way,” Berget said. “They’re not trained to do that.”

Maki, the superintendent, during Monday’s school board meeting, hinted to members that a deal nearly was hammered out. 

“We’re close,” Maki said earlier this week. “I’m supposed to meet with Tony (Berget) and the EPA on Wednesday,” Maki said Monday, hinting of the gathering with Ketellapper.

Maki’s rationale for downsizing the property is economics. 

“It’s a great place for a community center, but it’s just too big the way it is. It costs too much to heat,” Maki said.

It is the superintendent’s plan to keep the gymnasium and the row of classrooms that parallel Idaho Avenue. Ideally, the northern section of classrooms would be kept for group meeting rooms. The southern stretch of classrooms would be sectioned off so that they would not need to be heated. However, the plan is that if they are needed they would then be accessible.

“It’s got 1950s-era boilers that are about 30 to 40 percent efficient,” Maki said Tuesday. “We’d like to get it to where one good, efficient boiler system would heat it. The district does not want to be in the property management business, but the idea then is to get it self-sufficient as groups would rent and pay for the heating.”

In a letter drafted April 4, to Murray, the EPA program director, Maki requests the agency put the Asa Wood project on its spring/summer calendar for cleanup. As the EPA next week will begin its summer remediation program, it now appears the work on Asa Wood will come later rather than sooner.

“We’re now looking at late summer to fall,” Ketellapper, the EPA Team Leader for Libby, said. “It’s my understanding that building is used quite extensively during the summer months,” Ketellapper said, noting the Junior Fair and other events.

The EPA’s decision to reconsider taking a grander role in the project hinged partly on Maki’s letter to the EPA and the insistence the West Wing come down. Certainly, the EPA did not want to put workers at risk.

In his letter to Murray, Maki writes: “Lincoln County has agreed to demolish those portions of the Asa Wood bulding after the EPA cleans the vermiculite from the walls. The county workers are not asbestos certified,” Maki writes.

“Therefore, all areas must be be completely absent of all Libby Amphibole (LA) vermiculite. If LA vermiculite is found, the local EPA office will be called to perform additional cleanup. We are fairly confident that there is no possible way the EPA will completely remove all of the LA vermiculite from the structure.”

Maki completes the letter to Murray simply by asking Murray for understanding.

“The District has never been a beggar or whiner! We thought the EPA would partner with the school, community, city and county in order to create a positive center that we can utilize to its fullest potential. One would have thought the EPA would welcome an opportunity for some positive publicity,” Maki’s letter concluded.