A project to reduce asbestos hazards at Augusta State University by encapsulating 120,000 square feet of crumbling roofs with a pliable sealer should be under way within a week.
The $400,000 project is a temporary measure to buy time to stabilize the concrete roofs while plans are made to demolish and replace the buildings, said D.C. Guerrieri, the university's physical plant director.
"The contract began today with a walk-through inspection," he said. Southern Environmental Services of Marietta will have 45 days to complete the work, which includes pressure washing and sealing six buildings.
Those buildings - Butler, Markert, Hardy and Skinner halls and the Science and Classroom Office buildings - make up about 75 percent of the school's classroom and office space. They were built during World War II as ammunition warehouses and later remodeled into classrooms.
Today, the cement-asbestos mix used to fireproof the roofs is deteriorating, causing fibers to build up on sidewalks, in soil and in attics. Students will be protected during the encapsulation work, Mr. Guerrieri said.
"The contractors will provide two protected entrances and exits from the buldings at all times," he said. "There will be barricades around other areas where there are no entrances." Work will continue during weekends.
The elastomeric - or flexible - coating will keep the asbestos stabilized for five years, giving the school time to plan replacement buildings.
ASU President William Bloodworth Jr., in a speech to students and faculty Tuesday, noted that the Georgia Board of Regents has made the university's classroom needs a top priority.
"On the 11th of June this year, the Board of Regents accepted and approved a two-phase plan for the replacement and demolition of the six academic buildings," he said. "In doing so, the Regents placed the first phase of that plan, an $18.2 million classroom building, at the very top of its list."
Regents also agreed to pay for the second phase, costing $18.3 million, immediately thereafter, making ASU the university system's only school with two major projects on the list, he said.
Coating the roofs will buy a limited amount of time, Dr. Bloodworth said.
"We can use these buildings for five more years - but only five more years," he said. "The clock is ticking and I, for one, am glad to hear it."
In addition to asbestos and ventilation problems, the former warehouse buildings have inadequate fire protection systems, extreme humidity problems, PCB contamination in underground transformers and an obsolete and irreparable electrical system that fails National Electric Code standards.