An attempt by the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District to cut $1 million from the cost of demolishing the retired high school has been rejected by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment because of required asbestos abatement, school officials said.
The district had hoped to convince the health department that asbestos contained in the primer applied to cinder block walls in the 1960s could be safely mitigated through a controlled demolition, instead of a more expensive abatement process, said Jamie Haukeness, school facilities manager. School officials argued that the asbestos was sealed within the paint and would not become airborne during demolition.
State inspectors disagreed and ruled the material had to be removed before demolition.
“The Division cannot allow demolition of the portion of the building containing the friable asbestos containing material to take place until the (asbestos) is removed,” Laura Shumpert, compliance supervisor for the state health department, stated in a Sept. 22 email to the school district.
The Montezuma-Cortez district released the results of the state’s ruling late Friday, Sept. 29, in a news release emailed by Suzy Meyer, who was hired as a writing consultant for the district in May, Haukeness said. Meyer also is a member of The Journal’s editorial board.
As a result of the state health department decision, the school district will go forward with the higher demolition estimate of up to $2.4 million, Haukeness said.
“The state has the final say, so we are moving forward on the abatement,” Haukeness said. “Demolition costs vary depending on the amount of asbestos found.”
The district’s asbestos abatement contractor, Colorado Hazard Control, was the lowest qualified bidder at $12 per square foot, Haukeness said.
The company will use hydro-blasting or a dry-ice method to remove all asbestos coating from an estimated 80,000 square feet of concrete blocks. The asbestos will then will be contained and transported to an approved waste facility in Utah.
Phase I of the demolition project is complete, and cost $558,000, of which $285,000 was for asbestos and mercury abatement in those sections, said owner’s representative Jim Ketter. Total cost of Phase II is estimated at $1.5 million, but the price could go up or down depending on how much asbestos is found. The complete demolition is now expected to cost $2 million to $2.4 million.
The additional block primer abatement job will take about three months, and will begin Oct. 11. Then final demolition can move forward, with an estimated completion date of spring 2018.
The additional costs were unfortunate, but unavoidable, Haukeness said.
“We did everything in our power to keep the costs to the taxpayer as low as possible,” he said.
School officials and contractors traveled to the state health department in Denver on Aug. 31 to make their case that controlled demolition of the block walls was an appropriate and safe method.
“We really pushed for our scientific point that the asbestos was bound in a resinous material and was not in a form that would be released into the atmosphere,” Haukeness said. “We believed the building could be demolished safely at less expense to taxpayers, but CDPHE did not approve it because they deemed the asbestos in the block coating to be friable.”
The demolition budgetThe project is being funded with a combination of grants and tax dollars. The district secured a $418,000 BEST grant and a $240,000 CDPHE Brownsfield grant for the demolition.
In a November ballot question, voters gave the district approval to use up to $1.8 million in district funds to pay for the old high school’s demolition. Originally, the money was put aside for a new football stadium on the campus of the new high school.
“Whatever is leftover, we will put toward upgrading the current Panther stadium,” Haukeness said. “I’m hopeful that will be the case.”
A long roadEstimated costs of demolishing the old high school have increased over the years.
When applying for a BEST grant and bond measure in 2012 to finance the new high school, Re-1 officials said the old high school would be demolished, and budgeted $145,000, according to then-Superintendent Alex Carter. In 2015, school officials learned that asbestos abatement costs ranged from $900,000 to $1.5 million. Subsequent bids ranged from $1.3 million to $2.5 million. Dismayed by the expense, the district considered repurposing the building instead. Ideas included using it for community purposes, relocating the Children’s Kiva Montessori School to the old building, and remodeling it for school district offices. In 2016, a 28-member task force made up of school district officials, local government officials and members of the public unanimously recommended that the old building be demolished. A survey the same year showed that among 251 respondents, 70 percent disagreed that it should be used for district offices. Survey respondents were divided evenly on whether the district should attempt to secure funding to remove asbestos and demolish the building.In November 2016, voters approved the school district’s request for permission to spend up to $1.8 million toward demolition. The vote was 5,358 to 3,078, passing with 63.5 percent of the vote.Colorado Hazard Control plans to hire two to four local workers for the demolition project through Express Employment Professionals, at 970-403-8730.
The Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School Board on Aug. 22 unanimously approved a resolution to put a $2.7 million tax on the November ballot. It is equivalent to 4.96 mills.
The tax would be used to increase salaries for teachers and staff, maintain and expand technology to support learning, and replace and upgrade the district’s fleet of buses.
The tax is an additional property tax levy in excess of the levy authorized for the district’s general fund.