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Hundreds sign letter opposing demolition of Old Library without asbestos removal first


ITHACA, N.Y. — More than 200 people have signed on to a letter requesting that Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick and the City of Ithaca take emergency action to make sure asbestos is removed from the Old Library building before it is demolished.

With demolition slated to start soon, neighbors and others, including Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, have voiced concerns about the method Travis Hyde Properties plans to use to take down the asbestos-filled building at 310-314 N. Cayuga St. in Ithaca.

At meetings with neighbors last week, the development team explained the process, which will include taking the building down piece by piece and removing the demolished materials from the site in covered trucks. As the demolition is taking place, the site will be continuously sprayed with water to suppress the dust. The development team says it can't remove the asbestos first because the building is condemned. The building was condemned and deemed "structurally unsafe and a danger to human life" in August due to a deteriorating roof.

Frost Travis, of Travis Hyde Properties, told The Ithaca Voice last week, "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."

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

But Hang and the 244 signatories (as of Thursday afternoon) are not happy with that response. The letter states the developer should restore the structural integrity of the building to safely remove the asbestos before proceeding with demolition.

In a statement, Hang said it's a health risk to demolish the building without removing the asbestos first.

"The proposed demolition of the abandoned library without removing extensive asbestos-containing materials documented inside the building would almost certainly release cancer-causing asbestos into a residential neighborhood where thousands of schoolchildren, residents, and commuters walk by the site each day," Hang said.

In a letter addressed to "Honorable Svante Myrick," Hang asks Myrick to take immediate action to make sure the former Tompkins County Public Library building "cannot be demolished until documented cancer-causing asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are removed from the 'entire building interior."

A report by Delta Engineers, Architects, and Land Surveyors, shows much of the building is contaminated and the entire building interior, about 20,000 square feet per floor, needs to be cleaned and decontaminated. Before the building was condemned, the plan had been to remove all of the asbestos-containing materials by enclosing the contaminated spaces and using negative pressure ventilation equipment. But due to the unsafe roof, the team changed plans.

In response to the recent petition, Travis said, the process of controlled demolition that is planned is a safe process "that has been used throughout the city of Ithaca more than 30 times in the past 20 years without incident and it is the safest way forward. We will be commencing pre-demolition surveys of adjacent structures that may be affected by demolition activity."

Travis said they are required to follow the law and environmental regulations. He said Delta Engineers will provide a full-time onsite air quality monitor and has a detailed plan to ensure public safety.

"We intend to proceed with the demolition," Travis said in an email Thursday.

The letter to Myrick concludes, "Given all the asbestos concerns documented herein, we request that you require all ACMs to be removed from the abandoned library without further delay and before the structure is demolished. If the library is demolished for any reason without removing the ACMs, with all due respect we will hold you strictly responsible." The letter is also cc'd to Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, Senator Tom O'Mara, Ithaca Common Council and Tompkins County Legislature.