Asbestos fight halts Carr work – for now|[08/10/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 10, 2007

Red tape and signs marking the dangers of asbestos have gone up along the perimeter of the five acres where the old Carr Central building sits, causing alarm but reflecting normal procedures.

Webber Brewer, the building’s owner, and state officials said the warnings are part of the long process of bringing the building back to its former glory days.

Brewer purchased the old school in May and has had crews clearing out trash and debris from its interior since. But, that work has been halted so the remainder of clearing can be done.

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&#8220The state has to bring in an (asbestos) abatement crew, who have a license to deal with that stuff,” he said. &#8220It will take a couple of weeks.” The signs warn passers-by about the dangers associated with inhaling asbestos, which can lodge in lungs and lead to disease.

The Cherry Street building, built in 1924, has sat vacant since it closed its doors as a school in 1979. Two decades later, the city sold the property to Robert Rosenthal, who had plans to turn it into an assisted living facility. Rosenthal had trouble receiving state grants to clean out and renovate the property. One of the reasons for his hurdles was the threat of asbestos in the building.

Webber, who is a local contractor and owner of Brewer Construction, is not relying on grants to finish his project. His plan is to raise private funds and memberships in order to renovate the former school into luxury apartments and condos.

In order to do that, he has to go through the process of getting approval from the local Architectural Review Board, as well as the Mississippi Department of History and Archives.

Asbestos is not dangerous if undisturbed. Abatement involves sealing it or removing it.

Once the abatement is complete, Brewer said, the next step will be to put a roof on the building and continue with interior improvements.

Robbie Wilbur, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency requires contractors removing asbestos to have a license through the MDEQ Asbestos Accreditation and Certification Program.

&#8220Asbestos is used for fireproofing and insulation. If it’s disturbed, it could become airborne,” he said. &#8220That’s why we have regulations to prevent that. Contractors have to be trained and certified by this agency.”

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in building materials and products for its fireproofing or insulating properties. It’s also found in other building materials, including floor tile, ceiling texture and some wallboard.