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Before you renovate - remediate!

Property conversions - known more commonly today as redevelopment - are on the increase in the metropolitan area, dramatically contributing to the reinvigoration of underutilized properties.

What may once have been a manufacturing plant or warehouse facility, is being renovated and reborn as modern office space, a retail center or other commercial enterprises. Along with the potential for vastly improved tenant revenues, this new age of reconstruction has given rise to another, more sensitive, fiscal consideration: remediation before renovation.

The presence of asbestos products is a very common, perhaps even pervasive problem that commercial property owners and buyers must face in this age of environmental enlightenment. According to Brent Ingersoll, whose company Condor Associates, Ltd. of Murray Hill, NJ specializes in environmental remediation and demolition services, the remediation of asbestos should he of primary concern to property buyers.

"A buyer considering purchasing a building constructed prior to 1970 is faced with nearly a 100 percent probability of having some form of asbestos-containing materials. Identifying that situation prior to purchase is going to save a lot of headaches, and possible loss of tenant income, down the road," Ingersoll said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), OSHA and the state and local government agencies that oversee toxic substance remediation can impose stiff penalties on building owners who may inherit contamination problems and who elect to avoid abatement issues that pose health risks. "In addition to sizable fines," Ingersoll said, "unsuspecting buyers can be plagued by construction and retrofitting delays if asbestos is present. It would be wise for any commercial property buyer to have a hygiene firm perform an asbestos survey before signing purchasing contracts."

The problem with asbestos is that it is not always conspicuous. In fact, most asbestos must be identified through approved procedures. Many older buildings were constructed using materials that once were unknown to be hazardous. The presence of asbestos in these buildings can take many forms.

"The most common building products in which asbestos can be found," Ingersoll explained, "are sprayed-on fireproofing, floor tiles, pipe insulation, boiler packing, wallboard and roofing materials. If asbestos in a deteriorated state is discovered in any of these installations, or if its presence will be impacted by planned renovations, it must be removed before any new construction begins. If discovered and identified after construction starts, renovations could be significantly delayed until abatement is completed."

The amount and type of asbestos products found will dictate the extent of the remediation process, but all abatement procedures must be performed by state-licensed asbestos removal experts. Extensive safety precautions must be taken when removing asbestos and other toxic substances. Although, in some instances, construction could possibly continue while abatement procedures are being performed, the asbestos work areas must be completely sealed off from other working areas while remediation is taking place. The removal specialists, protected from exposure in contaminated areas by personal protective equipment, are the only persons permitted in contaminated areas. These stipulations would preclude access by other trades during the remediation process.

Condor Associates is unique in one regard in that they are capable of performing demolition services in addition to remediation services. "In instances where properties are being converted from one use to another, some degree of demolition is likely to be necessary," Ingersoll said. "Our diversified capabilities allow us to assign teams of licensed remediation professionals and demolition crews to the same site to accomplish both tasks simultaneously. This is extremely advantageous to the buyer, since it eliminates the need to hire and schedule a number of different contractors."

Most asbestos removal projects can be accomplished with minimal delays and comparatively modest expense, considering the alternatives. Condor Associates recommends that building owners or prospective buyers have their environmental consultants conduct field surveys to detect the presence of asbestos. Once these inspections are completed, abatement specifications can be drafted and remediation project costs estimated.

"The one danger to be aware of," warned Ingersoll, "is that, while remediation procedures are stringently regulated, some abatement contractors cut corners and don't necessarily comply with the strict letter of the law. The removal of asbestos products must be performed using approved procedures, and the entire abatement must be thoroughly documented. When it comes to asbestos removal, building owners should insist on hiring reputable remediation contractors who have extensive experience and impeccable credentials."

This constitutes very good advice, since the building owner is ultimately responsible for the asbestos products even after they have been removed from the property and deposited in a federally approved landfill. Every container of asbestos that is removed is double sealed, then clearly labeled with the building owner's name, before being carted off for appropriate disposal. Given the permanence of this identification and the extent of documentation, you wouldn't want incorrectly handled toxic waste nightmares to come back to haunt you in the near or distant future.

The presence of asbestos products in older buildings is certainly prevalent throughout the country. Considering the density of commercial properties in the Northeast, however especially in the industrialized Boston to Washington corridor - asbestos contamination in these urban areas may be at its highest. Certainly, the problem is not going away any time soon.

The issues of asbestos abatement are serious ones. The consequences in lost income and a restricted workforce, not to mention fines for non-compliance, could drastically effect return on investment. The old adage that warns the buyer to beware suggests that property buyers make it a point to include environmental surveys on their punch-list. In light of these ongoing regulations and the deepening concerns for tenant and workplace safety and health, it certainly seems prudent for building owners and prospective buyers to consider remediation before renovation.
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Title Annotation:Focus On: Property Management; environmental considerations in converting plants and warehouses to office or commercial buildings
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Apr 29, 1998
Previous Article:Intelligent real estate comes of age.
Next Article:The changing face of residential management.

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