Public Works gets involved in community redevelopment

David Fain
Director of Public Works
City of Haltom City, Texas
Member, APWA Facilities and Grounds Committee

As the stories of infrastructure failures such as water lines, sewer lines, levees, bridges and drainage systems continue to surface, another type of failure is slowly beginning to creep into the forefront in many communities. Aging facilities and structures throughout the country are being abandoned as they become old and rundown. These buildings can create an unhealthy environment, lead to breeding grounds for crime, and cause an overall economic decline of the area as a whole. To help alleviate this growing problem, local public works departments are taking on the responsibility of cleaning up or demolishing these eyesores throughout their community. One such circumstance recently occurred in Haltom City, Texas.

An abandoned facility in the city, which had previously served as a full-service nursing home, had been vacant for over fifteen years. After issuing several citations against the property owners, the City's Board of Appeals for Dangerous Commercial Buildings declared the eighty-four-room life care facility structurally substandard. At that point, the decision was made to demolish the building rather than restore it. Once bids were solicited from vendors to perform the project, it was decided that it was more cost-effective for the City's Public Works Department to coordinate and perform the demolition and related cleanup.

Due to the age of the facility, a consultant was hired to assist staff in assessing the asbestos levels in the building and to determine the most efficient and safest way to demolish the building and remove debris from the property. However, several requirements had to be met by City staff before the project could even begin. Construction Supervisor Mike Newman, who served as the City's Project Coordinator, was required to become certified in wet demolition asbestos removal, and all other employees involved in the project received safety and informational training regarding the seriousness of asbestos exposure. Mr. Newman and another employee attended a forty-hour "Asbestos Contractor/Supervisor" training program to receive their wet demolition asbestos removal certification. All other employees involved in the project attended a one-day "Asbestos Awareness Training" program to learn safety requirements and general information regarding the seriousness of asbestos exposure. Mr. Newman expressed how important he felt this training was when he said, "I think what made this demolition such a success was the training we received which included information regarding all the hidden dangers involved in asbestos exposure and removal."

  Recycling all the metal

Once training was completed, the next step in the process was to determine what portion of the debris could be recycled, what portion was to be discarded, and how to go about soliciting bids for a certified hauler to deliver the discarded materials to a certified landfill. Staff determined that the only recyclable material in the building was the metal. The remaining debris would be discarded. The City then solicited bids and awarded the contract to a company certified to haul asbestos materials. With the plan in place and staff training complete, the demolition began.

Before actually demolishing the structure, staff verified that all utilities including water, gas and electricity were disconnected. Then, removal of the exterior bricks began. A backhoe was used to "peel" the brick away from the building and loaded into a dump truck to be transported to the landfill. Next, the air conditioning units were removed from the roof of the structure using a trackhoe, and the water heaters and fire protection lines were removed. Since the facility had been deemed structurally substandard, City staff was not allowed to enter the facility during the project. This made the task of removing interior furnishings and materials challenging. Metal bed frames and dressers, two to three per each patient room, were removed through the windows again using the City's trackhoe. In preparation for recycling, these bed frames and dressers were crushed for easier transport.

Now that all the interior furnishings had been removed from the building, the demolition of the exterior structure could continue. The asbestos-laden building was razed using the wet demolition method. A consultant was onsite at all times as required by the Environmental Protection Agency to continually measure air quality. Leaving asbestos material in the building during the demolition could have created the possibility of asbestos fibers drifting into the air and traveling far from the project site. This could have exposed many people to asbestos, a fibrous mineral that can scar the lungs and cause cancer if it is inhaled.

  The start of demolition (using water to minimize visible emissions)

During the wet demolition method, workers continually wet down the building using high-pressure water hoses while heavy equipment was used to tear down the structure. This method ensured that the asbestos still present in the building was contained and removed along with the other debris. During this process, consideration was also given to the possible contamination of runoff. Precautions were taken to ensure that all possible asbestos-contaminated water was contained and removed from the work site as well. In order to keep costs to a minimum, City staff was charged with the responsibility of preparing the asbestos-contaminated materials for transport. This process, commonly known as "burrito wrapping," guaranteed that no asbestos material was inadvertently introduced into the environment. This "burrito wrapping" involved crushing and continually wetting down all the remaining debris, stockpiling it, then tightly wrapping it in a thick plastic and sealing all ends for hauling to an asbestos-approved landfill.

Burrito wrapping was performed so that no asbestos material was introduced into the environment.

Mr. Newman offered another piece of advice to a successful demolition when he said, "The other key to a successful demolition is that when you think you have all of the materials crushed, crush them again. This will save you time and minimize your haul-off expenses." City staff performed all the prep work including loading and prepping the haulers for transport. Once the debris was ready for removal, a contracted hauling company delivered the debris to the landfill.

Taking on a project of this magnitude may seem overwhelming at first, but considering that all heavy equipment used for the project was already owned by the City, as well as the significant cost savings to the City (compared to awarding the project to an outside vendor), makes the decision logical. Estimated costs from outside contractors were in excess of $100,000 with a timeline of approximately fourteen days, but performing the task in-house cost the City approximately $75,000 and took only seven days. In addition, employees now have training and experience in demolition and asbestos removal, which will lead to a more proactive approach by the City to removing substandard structures in the community. In this respect, the City of Haltom City's Public Works Department truly is leading the way in community redevelopment.

David Fain is a member of the Facilities and Grounds Committee and a former Director of the Texas Chapter's North Central Branch. He can be reached at (817) 834-9036 or