After a renovation project that took seven years and cost nearly four million dollars, firemen from the South Orange, New Jersey, fire department moved back into their historic firehouse. One of the reasons that the work was so lengthy and costly was the discovery of asbestos in the walls.
South Orange village treasurer and chief financial officer John Gross said that the project would have been completed on time and within budget were it not for the extensive labor involved in asbestos removal and disposal. "Asbestos was discovered in the walls and the ceilings," said Mr. Gross, "So there was $700,000 in unanticipated cost."
The asbestos findings added much more work to the renovation of the old firehouse, originally built in 1925 to house horse-drawn fire trucks. The affected walls and ceilings had to be stripped bare to remove the dangerous substance. Also, additional safety measures had to be put in place to protect workers from asbestos exposure. The project also required that workers employ environmentally safe disposal techniques for the asbestos, which also added to the project costs.
The original project was supposed to be completed within eighteen months, according to South Orange Fire Chief Jeffrey Markey, a thirty-four year veteran of the department. During the asbestos remediation, firefighters were housed in trailers while fire trucks and other equipment were often left in the elements. He said, "We had a lot of mechanical problems from them being out in the weather - valves, electrical connections. Fire trucks are meant to be housed. They should work in all weather, but they are not meant to be sitting out there."
One of the phases of the renovation called for a new system to deal with heating, cooling and ventilation of the old building. This phase of the project could not take place until the asbestos remediation was complete. If asbestos fibers had leached into the ventilation system, the exposure to asbestos could have caused serious health problems for the firefighters and other staff in the building.
Chief Markey also had ten years of experience as an architectural draftsman before joining the fire department. He wanted to make sure that contractors and other workers on the historic site kept the look and feel of the building intact while making it safe for his firefighters and bringing it up to date for the twenty-first century. He said, "It took a tremendous amount of oversight. We had the opportunity to have a clean slate."
Other village officials, while relieved at the completion of the project, were not as pleased with the cost overruns, length of time involved, or the inconveniences incurred while the work was underway. South Orange Village President Douglas Newman said, "While completion of renovations to South Orange's historic firehouse have taken far longer than anyone reasonable could have imagined, it's gratifying to see this important project finally completed." Village Trustee Michael Goldberg called the project, "an example of everything not to do."