Asbestos discovery puts off demolition

February 15, 2019

HUNTINGTON — The Cabell County Board of Education approved an additional $200,000 toward abating newly discovered asbestos spots at the former Enslow Middle School building in Huntington, which is being demolished to build the new Highlawn Elementary School on the property.

The new contract with Custom Services Industries of Huntington was approved unanimously Wednesday night at an emergency board meeting at the district’s central office in Huntington. The measure was the only item on the agenda during the 15-minute meeting.

Though the next regularly scheduled board meeting is only six days away, on Feb. 19, the contract had to be approved immediately so demolition of the old school and construction of the new one would not be delayed any longer than necessary, said Kim Cooper, assistant superintendent for operations.

Removing and transporting the additional asbestos will take 12 to 14 days, at which point demolition will resume. The new Highlawn is still expected to be built and ready for students at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Much of the asbestos in the school had already been surveyed and removed prior to demolition. Tearing through the building, however, turned up unforeseen pockets in hidden areas inside the building.

“Anytime you go to demolish an old building, you’re going to get some unforeseen problems arise,” Cooper said. “We had some additional asbestos found, and we’ll get it abated as quickly as we can so we can get back on schedule and get Highlawn built.”

The current abatement project is actually expected to cost around $134,000, Superintendent of Schools Ryan Saxe told the board. Approving up to $200,000 would likely cover any more abatement services should more asbestos be found.

The contract will be paid for jointly through funding by the state School Building Authority and the county district.

Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber and a documented carcinogen known to cause lung cancer; mesothelioma, which is cancer in the inner lining of the chest; and asbestosis, which is scarring in the lungs from inhaling airborne particulates. Between 1999 and 2013, 530 West Virginians died from mesothelioma and asbestosis, according to The Mesothelioma Center.

Until the 1970s, asbestos was commonly used in many types of building materials and insulation for its heat resistance and durability.

The asbestos found at Enslow was hidden, Cooper added, posing no health concerns for the demolition crews or those who attended the school.

“This stuff has been hidden away for at least 60 years into some of the walls,” Cooper said. “It’s all been encapsulated. But once the demolition started, that’s when it was found. And when it’s found, it has to be abated.”

The Enslow building was constructed in 1917 with additions completed in 1957. It has not housed classes since 2013, when the school was consolidated with Beverly Hills Middle School to create Huntington East Middle School. When it closed, Enslow had 252 students and a staff of 43.

The planned $13.2 million Highlawn Elementary School will house up to 300 students. Funding for the new Highlawn Elementary and the demolition of Enslow Middle was received from the state School Building Authority in 2017, and will be split 50/50 from state and county coffers.

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.

“Anytime you go to demolish an old building, you’re going to get some unforeseen problems arise.”

Kim Cooper Cabell County assistant superintendent for operations

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