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Demolition of Tompkins Old Library will start soon


ITHACA, N.Y. — After years of debate and vacancy, the former Tompkins County library on the corner of Cayuga and Court streets will begin to come down piece by piece soon.

At a meeting with neighbors Thursday evening, Frost Travis, of Travis Hyde Properties, and other members of the design team fielded questions and gave an update on how the demolition of the project will go. Travis said final approvals are needed, but demolition should begin in the next few weeks. Once underway, demolition is estimated to take six to eight weeks.

The property was sold to Travis Hyde Properties last year and in May they announced they had partnered with Bridges Cornell Heights, a local senior living provider. Library Place will offer senior housing and include 67 units and will have one-, two- and three-bedroom options. There will be a restaurant on site, a la carte home health services, a community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities and other amenities.

Travis Hyde Properties has contracted Gorick Construction for the demolition. They will use an ultra-high reach demolition excavator to remove the building piece by piece. Demolished materials will be removed from the site as they come down by covered trucks. To suppress dust, the site will be continuously sprayed with a large mister. The water used during the demolition will be collected and filtered to remove particulates and then pumped into the storm sewer. Vibrations from the site will also be monitored to make sure nearby buildings are not damaged.

What to do with the space was debated for years. The Tompkins County Public Library operated in the old building at 312 N. Cayuga St. from 1969 to 2000. There are actually time capsules from when the building was first constructed that will be removed and preserved before demolition.

The former Tompkins County Public Library site on North Cayuga Street.
(Kelsey O'Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

By the early 1990s, the library had outgrown the space and county officials began considering other options. Tompkins County Legislature approved a plan to move the library to the former Woolworth Department Store on the corner of Green and Cayuga streets, and they finally began operating in the space in November 2000. After that, it was used for paper records storage and the Community Justice Center.

Today, the building is vacant and plants hide a lot of the front facade and murals. Around the property, there are chairs, discarded clothing and shoes, food containers, syringes and other items. While the concrete structure looks sound from the outside, it has been condemned due to a deteriorating roof. And inside, there are asbestos-containing materials on every floor. The unsafe roof derailed original plans for asbestos removal, William Johnson, of Delta Engineers, Architects, and Land Surveyors, said Thursday.

Asbestos has previously been a concern in the building. The library was closed for most of 1984 as asbestos was removed, according to the library's website. However, a pre-demolition report for the current project found asbestos was not fully removed.

The original plan was to remove asbestos-containing materials like spray-on fire proofing, pipe fitting insulation, door slabs, interior asbestos packing, roofing materials and linoleum flooring. The entire building interior, about 20,000 square feet per floor, needs to be cleaned and decontaminated, a report from Delta stated. Before it was discovered that the roof was unsafe, Delta's report said they planned to remove all the asbestos-containing materials by enclosing the contaminated spaces and using negative pressure ventilation equipment.

However, because the roof is unsafe, the plan had to change, Johnson said. Now, the plan is to move forward with demolition without removing the asbestos first and keep dust down by continuously spraying water over the materials. He said air samples will be taken upwind and downwind of the facility during demolition.

Chairs, discarded food containers and other items remain at the Old Library site.
(Photo by Jacob Mroczek/The Ithaca Voice)

The new plan of asbestos removal was the primary concern voiced by neighbors, who were joined by Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting. Neighbors said they are concerned about contaminated water runoff and were not convinced spraying water would be sufficient to keep down asbestos-filled dust.

"Destroying this building without removing the asbestos first makes zero sense," Hang said. "I think the simplest thing is shore up the ceiling ... complete the very rigorous asbestos removal action that was originally proposed."

Travis said as the building stands, it poses a "significant threat to public safety." Travis said despite efforts to secure the building, several times they have found people trespassing inside attempting to strip out remaining copper piping with torches. He said the sooner they can secure the building behind a demolition and construction barrier, the safer the site will be.

Because the building has been condemned by the building department, once they get the demolition permit they must start demolition in 30 days. The last hurdle before the permit can be issued is getting power shut off by NYSEG, which should be any day. Travis said Friday they took concerns into consideration after meetings this week, but said after consulting with their engineers, "shoring up" the roof to remove asbestos is not feasible. He said the controlled demolition process that will move forward "has been used to safely take down condemned structures all over the state" and they will be following regulations from the EPA, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, NYS Department of Health and NYS Department of Labor.

"The condemnation was largely a result of a very unstable roof deck. It has been suggested that the roof be 'shored up' so that remediation of asbestos can be done ahead of demolition. After consultation with our engineers, we find this is infeasible structurally and from the point of schedule. We also don’t want to put construction workers and abatement workers in harm’s way," Travis said.