Emergency tile repair begins

Asbestos floor pieces being replaced at Center for the Arts

Work to cost $28,000

March 09, 2001|By Larry Carson | By Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

An emergency repair program to replace broken asbestos floor tiles at Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City is under way, after dozens of the tiles popped loose and broke apart in a first-floor hallway during the past several weeks.

Artists at the center, who are moving out to allow the work, seem to appreciate the county's efforts.

"The glass is more than half full," said painter and former architect Ginger Peloquin, who said she is satisfied the county is following safety precautions.

Although a lower floor in a different wing of the 40-year-old former Rockland Elementary school building holds Head Start classrooms for more than 100 pre-schoolers, tiles there have broken infrequently and classes won't be disrupted, county officials said.

Last night, workers began to remove and replace about 30 tiles in the hallway outside the carpeted Head Start classrooms. All of the ground-floor tiles will be replaced during the summer recess, when the building is scheduled for a $400,000 structural repair job, said county Public Works Director James M. Irvin.

The tile replacement should cost about $28,000, Irvin said.

A memo describing the situation to Head Start parents was sent home with children yesterday, officials said.

"We are really very pleased with the way the county has responded to the problem. We don't expect any disruptions," said Vita Dayhoff, director of administration for the Community Action Council, the organization that operates Head Start. The work near the classrooms was done after school hours, and the air is being monitored, she said.

Adele Linsalata, whose 3-year-old daughter attends the Ellicott City center, said, "I'm very comfortable" with what the county is doing.

Charles A. Kasky, deputy county chief administrative officer, said the county has hired a moving company to take all of the artists' equipment out of the old classrooms they use and store them on the grounds.

The hallway and classrooms will be sealed with plastic, and the air will be filtered and tested while A&I Inc. contractors from Baltimore do the work.

"I'm glad they're clearing it out. It has to be done," said artist-in-residence Thomasine Spore, one of 14 artists who must move.

Colleen West, director of the center, said that each year 41,000 people visit the former school building on High Ridge Road, near U.S. 40. Over the years, new boilers and central air conditioning have been installed and other repairs have been made.

West said, "We've had to cancel a couple of classes," and activities will have to be shifted from room to room for a while, but "I think [the county is] doing the appropriate thing."

The hallway outside artist David Zuccarini's painting studio looks as if it has been stomped on by a squad of 300-pound professional wrestlers. Broken 9-inch square tiles - the thick ones installed in older school buildings across the nation - have been popping up like spring tulip bulbs. Inside his studio, several tiles are taped down to prevent breaking.

They are not dangerous, Kasky said, unless they break into pieces and are pulverized into dust. He said no one knows why the tiles began to come up all at once. But after the county had them tested and found they contained up to 7 percent asbestos, the decision was to act immediately.

While officials waited for the test results, he said, the tiles began popping up in droves. "Even our contractor was shocked," Kasky said. "We understand the [safety] issue, and we're convinced ... there's no immediate health danger."

The county solicited bids from several contractors on a list of reliable vendors and hired an Environmental Protection Agency-approved company and an independent air monitor.

All of the old tiles should be removed and replaced on the first-floor art center wing by the end of next week.

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