Flood cleanup could fix Duluth Armory’s illsThe city of Duluth will seek several hundred thousand dollars to repair flood damage at the Duluth Armory, including removing asbestos disturbed by the floodwater, according to the city and the Armory Arts and Music Center, which owns the building.
The June flood may turn out to be a financial boon for the Duluth Armory, but also will cause the building to be inspected by state authorities for potential environmental hazards.
The city of Duluth will seek several hundred thousand dollars to repair damage from the flood related to the Armory, including removing asbestos disturbed by the floodwater, according to the city and the Armory Arts and Music Center, which owns the building.
Without that money, the Armory would not have been able to pay for the abatement and cleanup.
“We always assumed we’d remove at least the asbestos,” said Mark Poirier, the project development consultant for the Armory Arts and Music Center. “It’s not an occupied space, but there is mechanical equipment down there, and people need access to monitor the culvert.”
Rushing water from Chester Creek, which runs underneath the Armory, blew up from a culvert through the basement of the building, filling the area with debris, sediment and concrete from the culvert, damaging electrical work and disturbing asbestos, Poirier said.
The cost to repair the culvert and clean up the Armory basement could total from $400,000 to $800,000, said Cari Pedersen, the city of Duluth’s chief engineer of transportation.
The city is paying for the armory work because the damage was caused by the city-owned culvert, Pederson and Poirier said.
The money for the repairs and abatements will come from federal highway money and flood bonding money from the state of Minnesota, Peterson said.
Beyond the cleanup, the floods may have caused an environmental hazard. The gushing water from the floods blew what Poirier described as a “significant sized hole” in the Armory basement that now looks directly into Chester Creek below.
That hole could allow potentially hazardous materials to get into the creek, which flows into Lake Superior. Environmental assessment reports conducted in 2000 and 2001 have found not only high amounts of asbestos in the basement, but also lead in the soil from when that part of the building was used as a shooting range. Those hazards have never been abated.
Heidi Kroening, the compliance and enforcement supervisor for the MPCA, said the agency wasn’t aware of the potential environmental hazards at the Armory before being contacted by the News Tribune. As a result, she said the agency will inspect the site, probably this week.
She said there are concerns about both asbestos and lead getting into Chester Creek.
The Armory was first condemned for demolition in 2000, but an effort was made by city officials to study what it would cost to repair and re-use the building.
A January 31, 2001, study found several thousand square feet of asbestos throughout the building, while also finding visible pieces of lead from soil samples in the basement of the building and the potential for lead dust. An April 22, 2002, report on the potential re-use of the Armory conducted by the city of Duluth Planning Department estimated the cost to abate the asbestos throughout the building at $235,000, and the cost to abate the lead in the basement at $1.3 million.
The report noted that if the building was re-used then all the lead in the basement might not need to be removed. It could be possible, the report noted, to remove only the top few inches of soil; a cost estimate for that work was not provided.
There also could be costs to clean up sewage that made it into the building after the flood. Areas of the basement tested positive for coliform and e-coli bacteria, which Poirier said was caused by sewage mixing with storm water and getting into the building from the flood.
He said volunteers cleaned out and abated the sewage and other damage on the first floor of the building.
“We’re done with the portions we can do,” he said.
The city’s Building Appeals Board granted a six-month stay for demolition of the building during a meeting in August, after Poirier told the board before the flood the AAMC was making progress on making the building fit for commercial use.
He told the board a six-month extension would allow the AAMC time to get the building “back to pre-flood condition” but now says he expects that to take longer, possibly into the spring, due to the work required.
Even if the Armory is able to get the building back to pre-flood conditions, Poirier estimates it will be another year and a half before it’s able to open for commercial use.
He says funding for the work needed for that to happen is contingent on the Armory signing a tenant. Once that happens, Poirier said money from that lease would go toward remodeling the building and getting it up to code.
Ultimately, Poirier said the Armory will be used as a commercial space and a center for the arts, education and music. The front portion facing Lake Superior would be for commercial space while the remainder would be used by nonprofits dedicated to the arts, Poirier said.
Because the building is under a condemnation order, only city personnel, owners of the building and professional building contractors are allowed inside. That is making it difficult to find a tenant, Poirier said. He said he’s hoping to get permission from the city sometime this month to allow potential tenants to tour the building.