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Keeping everyone safe while upgrading the campus

Debris from tearing down the old Multipurpose Building on campus is shown with TVA apartments in the background.
Campus construction managers say any toxic materials were properly removed and discarded before the Multipurpose Building and TVA apartments were demolished.

With buildings being torn down as BYU–Hawaii continues upgrading the campus, BYUH Operations Vice President Kevin Schlag said members of the University ohana have been asking questions about possible hazards due to demolition. However, both Schlag and the Church’s Special Projects Department Site Project Manager Jeff Packer said any hazardous materials are being properly removed and thrown away according to regulations, and there is nothing to be concerned about.

Years ago, “when these buildings were built,” said Schlag, “there was a lot of material used that we’ve since found to be hazardous.” One example he gave is the construction material asbestos, which is now known to cause cancer.

At the beginning of the Fall 2022 Semester when demolition of the Temple View Apartments N, P, A and B, and the Multi-Purpose Building happened, Packer said because it was very dusty, people expressed concerns about the debris. Packer said by the time the dust was created on the site, the hazardous materials have already been abated and taken away. Everything is being handled properly and carefully, Packer assured.

Bagged up and taped construction debris sits in a dumpster on campus.
Bagged up and taped construction debris sits in a dumpster on campus.

When workers remove the demolished materials, Packer said, “They bagged it up, and then they put it in a dumpster” before transporting it. He commented, “So [we] try and keep it so that it doesn’t become airborne.”

Packer added construction workers are certified in transporting harmful materials. “There has to be a manifest written up to transport hazardous materials, and it goes from the project to a certified facility. Even the dump or the waste management area that they have [needs] to be a certified facility.”

Packer explained there are regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). First, he said, they are required to test anything they intend to disturb for possible waste issues. Second, they must ensure it is removed it in the right way, which requires “hiring people who are certified in all those areas.”

“Anybody who is handling hazardous materials has to be certified and that means they have gone through a class or course and even some hands-on training,” said Packer. Workers often have in their wallets a card proving they are certified, he continued.

Packer said his job is to “hold the general contractor to the standards and practices that are required.” He explained he is manager between the contractor, which is Jacobsen Construction, and Schlag. “And then the contractor hires a subcontractor that is over the removal of hazardous material,” he said, before any demolition is done.

Schlag said many construction projects at BYUH use the Church’s Special Projects Department (SPD). “The Church helps us with a lot of these big projects. Whether it’s the Church helping us or whether we’re doing things by ourselves, there are lots of regulations around how to handle hazardous materials,” he stated.

Safety onsite

Contractors are removing the roof off of the old cafeteria next to the Aloha Center, said Packer. He said his team is keeping everyone safe from falling debris and asbestos. Workers have “opened up a hole in the roof, and they’re taking the hazardous material and dropping it down inside the building. So, it keeps everything contained,” he commented.

Jacob Medeiros, a project engineer at Jacobsen Construction, said before demolition happens, a specialized third-party subcontractor tests every component of the building to see if it contains hazardous building materials like asbestos, and then the subcontractor generates a report for his company. “It’s several hundred pages long, details everything in the whole building [and] identifies which products in the building would contain hazardous material,” added Mederios.

Once Jacobsen Construction gets the report, he continued, it plans what needs to happen before demolition begins and has hazardous materials removed by a subcontractor. “We’ll work with the subcontractor and share with them the identified materials, and they will begin to remove the materials in a manner in which we reduce risk,” he said.

Medeiros said, “We’re the ones directly touching a lot of these things and being involved with it. So as much as we’re thinking about our own safety, of course, we’re also thinking about the safety of everyone around.”

Focus on the final results

Schlag asked students to be patient as buildings are demolished and new construction completed over the next few years. He said he knows it’s going to be inconvenient, noisy, and dusty on campus. However, he encouraged students to consider the benefits and better facilities the construction will bring.

“The new buildings are so much better than the old buildings,” Schlag said. “So please be patient with us, and it’s going to be a much better experience.”

Packer said he wants students to know they are safe because the University, Church and construction teams are taking all the needed precautions. Despite the construction, he also said the products they are building for the students are going to be fantastic. “So, bear with us and bear with the dust and noise,” he stated.