ASBESTOS COULD DRAIN RYE’S RENOVATION PLANS

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New legislation has changed the rules on what’s considered to be an asbestos-containing product. Now, a material containing only 0.5 per cent of the deadly substance requires special attention and care — at a steep cost. News Editor Maurice Cacho reports.

New asbestos legislation could put a serious financial dent in the school’s Master Plan for expansion and renovations.

In accordance with previous regulations, Ryerson currently hires a firm to inspect contained asbestos and perform air quality checks at a cost of $600,000 per year.

The legislation, passed within the last year, increases the number of materials considered to be an asbestos product by lowering the threshold of content from 1 per cent of a material’s weight to 0.5 per cent.

If a contractor wanted to throw out a ceiling tile with less than 1 per cent asbestos, they could have thrown it right out. Now, they’ll need special masks and clothing, and the area will have to be sealed in with special fans and vacuums, at a cost.

As the school brings on a team to plan the future of our buildings, experts say the cost of safely dealing with asbestos could make things difficult.

Chris McNeill, the facilities safety officer at the University of Guelph, estimates it will cost between 200 and 400 per cent above normal construction costs to renovate buildings that contain asbestos because it is more expensive to remove the substance, and the legislation identifies more materials as asbestos-containing.

Ryerson’s ambitious Master Plan is touted as the blueprint for the school’s expansion over the next 20 years. But with no funding, the added costs of dealing with asbestos could shatter our dreams. Bruce Kuwabara, the lead Master Planner architect for Ryerson, said asbestos must be dealt with safely when renovating older buildings.

“We will look at (the asbestos issue) because we’re definitely very interested in repurposing Kerr Hall,” he said, adding that he made sculptures out of the harmful substance for grade school assignments.

”It’s very expensive because you have to seal off whole sections of buildings because you have to make sure the contaminant doesn’t spread.”

On a recent project at McMaster University, Kuwabara’s team redesigned a building that contained asbestos. He said the school had stripped down the building’s interior before he worked on it.

Asbestos can be found in everything from pipe insulation to floor tiles to ceiling stucco in buildings built before 1990.

Inhaling excessive amounts of asbestos particles could be harmful for one’s health. Ian Hamilton, Ryerson’s director of campus planning and facilities, said many precautions are taken when asbestos is being contained or removed on campus. He expects maintenance costs will go up, but doesn’t know by how much.

Tony Cupido, director of physical plant at McMaster University, has already seen how the new legislation affects his school.

“What we’re finding, on average, is that typical day-to-day maintenance has gone up about four times from the previous regulations,” he said.

In a phone interview from Boston, Cupido said McMaster is in the process of renovating its General Science Building at a cost two to three times higher than if it didn’t contain asbestos.

If Ryerson does go ahead with renovations to older buildings, it may be wise to renovate areas which contain less asbestos, McNeill said. “There’s no questions (renovations) can be done,” he said. “You don’t have to remove it all, just the section where the work is being done.

Whenever renovations are carried out and asbestos is present, the material is completely removed. “Some of our buildings are quite old, so we will have asbestos in a holding mode for as long as possible,” he said. “We will have to use more stringent practices.”

But if Ryerson can secure the money, asbestos will just slow down the building process.

“It just takes time and a lot of special care,” said Kuwabara.

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