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Asbestos work at Central State Hospital’s historic buildings is linked to demolition plan, documents show

The Jones Building at Central State Hospital, dating to the 1920s, is among three historic structures pegged for demolition in a still-unauthorized internal plan. (Photo by Halston Pitman/Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.)

By John Ruch

Mysterious asbestos abatement work on historic buildings at Milledgeville’s Central State Hospital (CSH) is – as preservationists feared – part of a still-unauthorized demolition proposal, according to documents obtained by SaportaReport.

Contractor proposals show the historic Green (1947), Jones (late 1920s) and Walker (1884) buildings pegged for demolition “down to slab” as part of a “CSH Building Demolition and Safety Containment Mitigation Project.” The project includes the asbestos work, whose surprise start in October stirred local concerns.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), which controls the buildings, previously characterized the abatement work as an urgent response to trespasser-related safety issues and separate from any potential demolition or other long-term plans. After SaportaReport obtained the contractor documents, DBHDD acknowledged having the list of buildings targeted for demolition, but that such work is not fully funded, authorized or even decided upon.

“It is something that is up for consideration,” said Ashley Fielding, DBHDD’s assistant commissioner for agency affairs, of the demolition list. “… And we are in discussions currently about how we address the safety risk, whether that be through demolition or through other means.”

The existence of the internal demolition list is also why DBHDD, after a previous SaportaReport story this month, was able to definitely clarify that CSH’s most historic structure, the 1842 Powell Building, would not be torn down.

Demolitions of state-owned buildings require approval through an executive order by the governor, which Fielding said DBHDD has not sought for CSH. “And I cannot confirm at this point that that request will move forward,” she said. The Governor’s Office has not responded to questions, but as of Nov. 16, Gov. Brian Kemp had not issued any CSH demolition orders.

Asked why the project’s name includes “building demolition” if that action is undecided, Fielding said the designation was needed to “obligate the funds” and “get that underway,” adding, “It’s just that none of that [demolition] part has been approved.”

DBHDD has allocated $5 million of one-time internal surplus funds for the project. Work orders indicated that more than covers the abatement cost estimate of around $2.3 million. And it’s not far from a contractor proposal that appears to estimate about $5.7 million for demolition and abatement combined. Fielding said the “current funding only covers asbestos abatement, demolition and extended risk mitigation to other buildings,” and not the sort of facade-preserving ideas previously proposed by preservationists.

“An architectural survey to determine the cost of preserving the facades of the buildings would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the work to save the facades would likely require an additional appropriation, likely in the tens of millions,” Fielding said.

While contractor proposals cover both demolition and abatement, only the abatement has been authorized, Fielding said. However, the proposals indicate those elements are interrelated. A July 19 proposal from abatement subcontractor Burch Industrial Services indicated that a large portion of that asbestos removal could be done only as part of demolition: “40% of this work will have to be preformed [sic] while demolition is being done for access.”

Fielding said the approved abatement work currently underway does not include any demolition. “The asbestos abatement does not have an impact on the overall structure of the building,” she said. “Regardless of any potential future use or actions, asbestos abatement has to occur first.”

According to DBHDD’s general counsel, Brenda King Woodard, there was no separate request for proposals for the demolition and abatement project because the agency instead operated under an existing statewide maintenance contract via the Georgia Department of Administrative Services. That contract is with a company called CGL Facility Management, which in turn subcontracts with Burch, the DBHDD documents show.

A July 22 proposal from Burch to CGL described a scope of services for the CSH demolition elements:

“Demolish Walker, Green, Jones, Steam Plant, Communications and The Chimneys down to slab/footing level. All brick and concrete to be ground up (if unrecyclable) and will stay on site at designated areas for future use. All steel will be recycled and wood will be ground for mulch. Subgrade will be filled with ground concrete and capped with dirt. All steam tunnel entrances will be sealed with ground concrete…”

That proposal was presented as automatically void after Aug. 22.

The demolition concept is similar to one pitched last year by the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority (CSHLRA), a body formed by the state to plan a redevelopment of the campus. The CSHLRA unsuccessfully sought federal funding to acquire and demolish the same historic buildings, though the Walker building’s facade would have been preserved.


Update: This story has been updated with additional comment from DBHDD.


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