The picturesque but asbestos-ridden former staff homes that dot the northwestern end of the Fairfield Hills campus will apparently be around a while longer.
A plan to remediate and demolish them, after being utilized for local company department exercises, has been halted because of rapidly escalating costs to demolish Danbury Hall on the opposite side of the campus.
The ongoing saga of trying to raze the homes and dorm building took a new turn this week as the Board of Finance and Legislative Council approved adding $100,000 to a previously approved bonding authorization.
First Selectman Pat Llodra said that the added funds will only be enough to ensure Danbury Hall demotion could be finished, and she regretfully has to come up with a new plan and new funding to finish hazmat work and removal of the adjacent homes.
Until recently, officials in concert with environmental consultants estimated it would cost about $250,000 to fully remediate and demolish all eight vacant homes and Danbury Hall. But as Mrs Llodra explained August 11 to the finance board, scattered concentrations of asbestos discovered as demolition crews chewed away at both locations was extensive.
She said crews would complete demolishing and testing plaster on one side of a hallway, finding little or no trace of asbestos and then on the opposite side of the same hallway they would find asbestos concentrations that were off the charts.
Mrs Llodra reviewed the history of the project, saying the town structured the resource plan to accomplish the entire project. Funding for the estimated $515,000 in work would incorporate a $200,000 federal EPA grant, a $20,000 contribution from the Fairfield Hills Authority’s budget, the $250,000 from the original bonding appropriation, and a special appropriation of $45,000 approved more recently.
“We had already spent $80,000 on the white houses, and the identification of insufficient resources really was triggered by work being done on the houses,” she said. “At that time the company doing the abatement we think underestimated the cost of the project.”
After the company came back seeking $65,000 more to complete the residential remediation, the town backed out of the contract and sought new bidders from a state-authorized list of vendors.
“When we had the abatement work further analyzed, we found no matter how much testing we do, the use of asbestos is so pervasive and found in such density, it’s almost impossible for us to price out [in advance] what abatements are going to be,” she said.
Mrs Llodra said that revised estimates from a new vendor total $300,000, “provided no other horrible discovery occurs.”
“There is always that proviso,” she added.
This would bring the price tag for the complete abatement and removal of Danbury Hall to $511,000, according to Mrs Llodra’s documentation.
Public Works Director Fred Hurley said the town and its consultants had to “push back” against state and federal authorities who originally wanted to rate all plaster at both locations as hazardous, requiring extremely expensive removal, handling, and disposal costs.
“The good news is they’re not going to hit us for the entire building, just a portion of it,” Mr Hurley said. “This is the protocol now that they’ve accepted. This should save money going forward because the protocol we are insisting on for testing asbestos has worked in our favor.”
Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob said her colleagues were as frustrated as the officials who came seeking the additional money.
“Sure we can spend a lot of money testing first to try to get a handle on abatement costs,” Mrs Jacob said. “But we might find little or no asbestos. And then, once work has started, we could run into a huge concentration of it, which will force us to have to come back for more money. It’s very frustrating.”
Ms Jacob said that looking back at the town’s experience with the many abatement-related headaches involving removal of former state hospital buildings on the town-owned campus, it might be wiser to build future demolition budgets with larger contingencies for unanticipated hazmat developments like the ones occurring now at Danbury Hall and the white houses.
“We have to be prepared in the event we develop more contamination during these projects,” she said.
Finance director Robert Tait said that $200,000 of the total amount now needed was already bonded last February in anticipation of covering much of the cost of the two demolition projects, and he will apply an additional $150,000 in bonding next February to fulfill the authorization approved this week.