Possible Demolition of Ithaca Building due to Asbestos

ITHACA, NY—The Tompkins County Legislature’s 20-year capital plan may include the demolition of Ithaca’s old county library building at Cayuga and Court streets. The 20-year plan, which was voted in by the legislature in 2006, is implemented in order to design more space for a new governmental office building, which will house legislative and administration offices. The dismantling of Ithaca’s old county library, if allowed to take place, would occur in 2018. The current usage of the library is for the storage of voting machines and records, and the community justice program is housed in the basement.

“The cost-benefit analysis of investing in (the old library) to make it workable doesn’t make sense in terms of the roof, in terms of the asbestos. But we just don’t have the funds. We won’t have them for some time,” said Legislature Chairman Mike Koplinka-Loehr, D-Town of Ithaca.

Asbestos abatement can be a very expensive procedure, but is necessary when dealing with asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is a known carcinogen. This fiber consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. Due to these characteristics, asbestos was used in many buildings and other structures throughout the 1900s. One estimation is that up to 80 percent of all buildings constructed before 1978 had asbestos within the design.

Once asbestos is damaged, it is released into the air and inhaled, lodging the fibers into organs—such as the heart, abdomen, and lungs—from which it cannot be removed. Exposure may lead to various asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

The current plan involves the demolition to occur to the building in 2018, but city commissioners are verifying that the date is not permanent and they expect it change.

“We need to get out of the courthouse. The state has been after us for 20 of the 25 years I’ve been on the board. They want more space in the courthouse,” said longtime Legislator Frank Proto, R-Caroline and Danby.

The land has been assessed at a value of $280,000. Koplinka-Loehr said the county is willing to hear ideas offered about what to do with the old library, providing the Legislature would have space.