Health center move delayed

By Caryn Rosenberg

No one is taking blame for delays in asbestos abatement that will keep the University Health Service closed for another academic year.

Rising airborne asbestos levels were detected in the health center in 1988. As the problem grew, the situation finally was assessed in January 1991 by Beiling Engineering Consultants.

The results showed the majority of the asbestos was located in the frame of the building and in the duct work, and the cost of abating the asbestos and renovating the building was estimated at $3.8 million. The project was to be handled by the Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB).

However, in January of 1991, former Physical Plant Director John Harrod and NIU Project Manager Conrad Miller said the work should be completed by fall of 1991. But James Harder, vice president of Business and Operations, said he thought that date was incorrect.

“I was under the impression that it was fall of ‘92,” Harder said. “We have people making pronouncements that don’t always know that much about a project.”

However, Mia Jazo, a spokesperson from the CDB, said the original completion date was scheduled for December 1991.

Harder previously said the abatement was complete, but after misinformation and countless delays, including the recontamination of two floors in the health center, contamination of outside soil and damage to the interior of the building, the abatement still is not finished.

“I did not know at that time there still was some abatement work that needed to be done,” Harder said. “The (project) schedule called for the completion of the asbestos abatement. They’re now saying it isn’t completed.”

However, Harder said the project is the responsibility of the CDB, not NIU.

“CDB got the money, hired the engineer, solicited the bid and handled the contract,” Harder said. “Their engineer was responsible for monitoring the project.”

In addition, Harder said NIU was not able to monitor the progress of the contractor because it dealt with asbestos.

“Under normal circumstances, we have people that monitor the projects, but this was different because of the health risks involved,” Harder said. “We don’t have an architectural engineer qualified to wear a respirator or a moon suit.”

Jazo said Scott Rogers is the project manager and does make on-site visits to check on the progress.

“He has other projects at NIU, so I would assume he’s probably there about once a week,” she said. “We have supervisors in the agency he would report to, but he was in contact with the university.”

In the meantime, if the abatement is not completed soon, the bids for the renovation of the health center will be postponed, as will the final completion date of the project.

“The entire building will be checked for asbestos before we do the renovation,” Jazo said. “Otherwise, it would be defeating our purpose.”

In a reply letter concerning the health center, NIU Architect Roland Schreiber stated, “bid dates for the restoration phase of the work are due on May 13, 1992, to include all mechanical and electrical work; and on May 20, 1992, to include the general construction work.”

In addition, Schreiber’s reply stated “the new schedule calls for occupation during the Christmas/Semester break 1992/1993.”

However, Jazo said Schreiber’s estimate is inaccurate.

“If we are successful with our bids in May, it usually takes about a month for actual work to begin,” Jazo said. “It will take about a year for the renovation, so it should be completed in spring of ’93.”

Jazo said the contractor, Park Ridge-based Brand Asbestos Control Company, was chosen to do the project through a normal bidding process.

“All of our work is competitively bid and we have to take the

lowest bid,” Jazo said. “We’re governed through state law through the Purchasing Act.”

Jazo said the only qualifications needed for the project are the company needs to be qualified to do asbestos work and work with the state.

“We assume that the companies putting in bids are qualified,” she said.

As for the delay, Jazo said they merely had a “very low contractor who had a very low bid and (the project) took longer than we expected.”

Although Brand has acknowledged the damaged items and is working to correct or replace them, the health center still is out of a home and forced to rent space elsewhere for at least another year.

NIU Legal Counsel George Shur said he does not know what claim the university might or might not have, because he does not know how the contract approaches damages.

“The contract is between the state of Illinois and CDB and the contractor,” Shur said. “I didn’t have a chance to review it. The contract will determine by and large how we approach it.”

In addition, Shur said he does not know if NIU can legally take action against CDB.

“The question you have to ask is when CDB is acting as the official and the legal representative for the state, can the university act separately from CDB?” Shur said.

arder said NIU’s lack of control in this situation puts the university at a disadvantage.

“In some respects, we’re the victim,” Harder said. “We want the job done. We want it done right, but we want it done.”

Harder added that although NIU is only indirectly involved, the abatement and remodeling of the health center still affects the university.

“What they do or don’t do has an impact on a university service that is here for the students,” Harder said.