SCHENECTADY — Amid the radical transformations taking place along lower State Street, a multiple-building demolition at the intersection with Mill Lane stands out for its warning signs.
Four aging buildings were demolished to make way for what's going to be called the Mill Artisan District. The piles of brick and the State Street sidewalk are fenced off, and the fence is covered every few feet with signs warning of the presence of asbestos.
The asbestos, found unexpectedly during demolition, is in the process of being removed, said architect J.T. Pollard of Re4orm Architecture, the project developer.
Most of what was found was in the form of a non-friable internal wall coating, he said. Non-friable means the material isn't in a form that easily flakes, which is how asbestos fibers typically become air-borne and can then be inhaled, the form in which it is dangerous.
"It's non-friable asbestos, but these are the protocols you have to follow," Pollard said. "There's really no hazard over there."
The asbestos found in the walls was part of a black coating between the brick and the plaster, probably applied as a preparatory coating, Pollard said.
"There's just sometimes stuff trapped behind walls that you can't see," Pollard said. "When they started to rip the walls down, the contractor recognized it could be asbestos and did the proper thing and stopped work until it could be tested."
The developer hired Dan's Hauling & Demo of Wynantskill, a state Department of Labor-certified asbestos abatement firm, to remove the material. The work is being done under the oversight of the Department of Labor, which oversees asbestos removals in New York state. A Labor Department project listing says work could last through November, but Pollard said he expects the asbestos removal to be complete within the next week.
Department of Labor spokesman Josh Rosenfeld said the developer applied for and received approval to have the work done by a licensed asbestos contractor.
"This is normal procedure for asbestos activity," he said in an email. "The (Labor Department) has not received any complaints or identified any issues regarding these jobs, and as such have not performed any inspections on the aforementioned locations."
Pollard said there isn't any risk to the public, despite the signs, as long as people stay on the outside of the fence.
Exposure to inhaled asbestos poses long-term risks of lung cancer and lung disease, but only when it is in a form that people can inhale.
"In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way to release particles and fibers into the air," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website states.
Asbestos was once widely used in building materials because of its heat-resistant and fire-retardant properties, but by the 1960s it was generally acknowledged in scientific and medical circles that long-term exposure could lead to severe lung disease. The demolished buildings dated to the 1800s.
Even after the asbestos is gone from the State Street site, the sidewalk will remain closed due to the construction and will be re-opened only when the contractor feels it is safe, Pollard said.
"That was always the plan," he said. "We just feel that, for everyone's safety, we have to do that."
The sidewalk will reopen at some point with a covered walkway, as construction continues, Pollard said.
The block of four adjoining two-story buildings — 102, 104, 110 and 122 State St. — initially were targeted for renovation and inclusion in the Mill Artisan District, which is expected to be a craft beverage-themed project.
Preliminary work and interior demolition last spring, however, revealed deterioration much worse than was expected, Pollard told The Daily Gazette in October.
The projected cost has already grown from $14 million to $24 million, but Pollard said the asbestos removal won't significantly add to that. The vision for the property includes a brewery, distillery and cooperage; a center for food and beverage production and development; labs and training facilities for culinary education; Schenectady County Community College’s culinary and craft beverage lab space; an on-site incubator kitchen; tenant brewers; a restaurant; tasting areas and a Taste NY retail store.
The Mill Artisan District received a $2.33 million award in the state’s 2016 Regional Economic Development Council competition and is being considered for a similar grant of $2.9 million this year, due to the expanded plan to convert the former Breslau's Department Store into apartments as part of the district.
Elsewhere on lower State Street, various other projects are transforming what had been several blocks of rundown buildings.
Near the intersection with Erie Boulevard, where the Nicholaus Building was demolished earlier this year after becoming unstable, the Electric City Apartments are starting to rise. At the end of lower State, the former YMCA is in the middle of being renovated into senior citizen apartments, and Liberty Park is fenced off for construction, as it is transformed into a larger park with a bus transportation hub that will be known as Gateway Park.