The city of Madison is eying a long-vacant office building as a temporary home for its Central Library, perhaps without a full understanding of why it has been long vacant.
"We've gone through it a couple of times," says library director Barb Dimick of the 11-story office building at 316 W. Washington Ave., a stone's throw from the current library site. "It looks like there's possibilities but nothing's been signed."
Don Marx, the city's real estate guru, confirms this: "We're kind of sizing it up to see if it meets our needs." He says the public portion would occupy part of the building's first floor, with perhaps other floors being used for administrative offices and storage.
The library needs to find a home for an 18-month period, beginning, says Marx, "in the second quarter of 2011."
316 W. Washington Ave. is largely vacant, aside from some offices occupied by AT&T. Marx doesn't know who owns the building but says the city has been working with Lee & Associates, a local real estate broker.
"We know there's some asbestos in the building," says Marx, unprompted. "It would need to be encapsulated," or sealed off. This is something the city would expect the owner to do.
But Cliff Fisher, developer of Metropolitan Place next door, says the problem may be greater than the city realizes.
"That's why the building's sitting empty," says Fisher, who looked into buying it several years ago. He hired Aires Consulting Group of Batavia, Ill., to size up the situation. It stated in a letter to Fisher dated May 23, 2006, that "asbestos fireproofing is present on structural members and the deck of all floors" and that "asbestos overspray has been identified on structural members and the curtain wall of the building."
A much longer Aires report, prepared for Fisher in January 2007, says the asbestos fireproofing is "considered a friable material," meaning that it can be easily crumbled or pulverized.
Friable asbestos, if disturbed, can cause fibers linked to cancer and lung disease to become airborne. Hence, it prompts strict regulatory controls.
The report estimated "total asbestos support costs for contracting and consulting services" at $854,500. But an earlier email seems to put the actual cost of asbestos removal at $3.7 million. Deadpans Fisher, "I decided not to buy."
The building has a 2010 assessed value of $7,152,000.
Mark Davis, an asbestos specialist with the state Department of Natural Resources, says it's not unusual to find asbestos in older buildings: "Just about every building we're in has asbestos in it."
But when asbestos is present, says Davis, any renovations require a thorough inspection and the hiring of an asbestos specialist before materials are disturbed.
Marx says it's not clear how much renovation is needed before the library could move in. The building, having been designed for use by AT&T, has "quite a bit of wiring" already in place. But he says asbestos is one of the factors the city must keep in mind as it proceeds.