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Student Union demolition held back a week


Randy Metcalf
Arizona Daily Wildcat

The gutted-out basement of the east wing of the Memorial Student Union which used to house SamÔs Place is ready for demolition. SamÔs Place is now located on the first floor of the student union, across from On Deck Deli.

By Ty Young
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 11, 1999

The Memorial Student Union east wing demolition, first proposed to occur in early September, has been held off until next week because of continuing safety issues.

Colleen Morgan, health and safety officer from the University of Arizona's Risk Management and Safety, said workers from Swinerton Walberg must complete the asbestos abatement before demolishing the east side of the union because of the required safety measures.

Morgan said there are only a few more areas where asbestos remains.

"The abatement in the Gallagher Theatre is now completed, but there are some areas that need to be cleared," she said. "Demolition will not begin until these areas are complete."

Morgan said the immense abatement project is currently the largest in the Tucson area. Since the beginning of the summer, more than 60 workers have been cleaning the dangerous fireproofing material out of the east end of the union. She said that the abatement is extremely important and the process takes a long time.

"They're basically clearing out the asbestos with an oversized wire toothbrush," she said. "Every nook and cranny must be scrubbed by the workers."

Morgan added that the safety of workers has added a lot of time to the project.

"Each area that is being abated must be totally contained by thick plastic so that it (asbestos) doesn't get out," she said. "When the workers leave the area, they must go through two ventilation areas as well."

Along with this, Morgan said the workers must adhere to many rules and regulations in order to keep themselves safe.

Workers wear thick, one-piece cotton suits that block any asbestos from their skin, and their boots and gloves are taped tightly to the suits.

"They wear these heavy cotton suits, and that's about it," she said. "They're down to their skivvies underneath the suits. When they're finished, they have to shower off."

Workers must also wear gas masks when inside contained areas. These masks filter out 99.97 percent of outside particles, up to 3 microns in length.

Head contractors from both Swinerton Walberg and University of Arizona Risk Management, are enforcing many rules that protect people outside the union from inhaling the dangerous material.

Among the most extensive of these rules is one that deals with the constant air flow changes that prevent the microscopic particles from entering the outside air.

Dick Roberts, UA budget director, said the massive amount of air flowing throughout the contained areas is important to keeping both workers and the public safe.

"Fans are pulling air out of the rooms to create negative air pressure inside the room," he said. "This negative air pressure inside the room is important so that if somebody accidentally cut the plastic, the asbestos that is inside the room won't get out."

Morgan said that each room being cleared is surrounded by 10 millimeter thick plastic and constant negative air flow is strained through filters before exiting the contained area. The creation of the air current causes the loud sound coming from the east wall of the union.

One of the largest contained areas is in the Gallagher Theatre.

"Pulling of the Gallagher Theatre containment right now is 2 million cubic feet per minute," she said. "The volume of air within the Gallagher Theater is exchanged four times an hour."

Morgan also said the abatement of the areas surrounding the theater, which are the last to be cleared, are extensive because it was the original women's gymnasium, built in 1937.

"The structure that held up the floor was fire-proofed and the old roof of the women's gymnasium was also covered with asbestos," she said.

Morgan also said that the university is using an outside asbestos expert to monitor the amounts of asbestos in the air.

"Normally I would handle the air levels, but because of the enormous size of the project, we needed outside help," she said.

Morgan also said that along with the safety issues within the walls of the union, which are extremely important, contractors from Swinerton Walberg are also concerned about the construction outside of the area. She attributes the lack of injuries resulting from construction to well-defined plans laid out by the university and the contractors.

"Swinerton Walberg spent ample amount of time with the university before the project started to set up how the students and bicyclists were going to get around this site," she said. "To my knowledge, the students have been obeying the signs very well."

Morgan also said the contractors are prepared to do everything possible to enforce safety around the campus area.

"So as near as I can tell, we've got pedestrian circulation protected and routed around areas where they would be exposed to any activities going on," she said. "Swinerton Walberg has done an excellent job in doing everything the university wanted to make sure that the people walking around the site are protected and that activities related to the construction are contained within the fences."

Chris Kraft, construction project manager from facilities design and construction, said that safety is an important issue that must be considered before moving into the demolition stages.

"The bottom line is that we are all working closely together to deliver this high quality project on time, in budget and as safely and cost effectively as possible," he said

He also said that after the demolition of the union, the first phase of construction will commence immediately.

"The entire project is scheduled to be completed by July 2002," Kraft said. "Phase one is scheduled to be completed and ready to move into by December 2000. Phase two, by July 2002."

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