Holt School Comes Down

By Joanne Ray | September 28, 2010

This demolition project got interesting recently when Suburban Middlesex Insulation, Inc. and its crew started taking down the Holt School in Whitman, Massachusetts.

It all started at last year's town meeting when the vote was approved to set aside $300,000 to demolish the crumbling building that had been standing since 1927. The 50,000-square-foot Holt School was once Whitman's high school and was also a junior high school, middle school and elementary school. In mid-February, the town hired SMI to take down the building that currently hosted a paramedic school, a wrestling school and a recreation center.

When the 12-man crew started taking the building down, they discovered a contaminant that appeared to be asbestos behind the building's brick veneer. Apparently, a tar that had been painted from the inside of the building's brick veneer to protect against moisture contained asbestos — something common to buildings built in the Holt School's era. Although the suspected contaminant was not hazardous to those around it, there were issues as to how it was to be disposed of. That issue triggered an automatic shutdown of the demolition that was subbed out to G. Lopes Construction of Taunton, Mass.

Once the issue was resolved, the crew got the go-ahead to begin demolition again. SMI President Darrell MacLean said that originally the brick was going to be crushed and made into fill, but now the crew will ship it out as asbestos to a special designated site in Maine.

"They have a landfill set up just for the treatment of that material," MacLean said.

According to MacLean, all of the materials on a demolition site have to be separated, which can make for a slower demolition project.

"We try to recycle as much as we possibly can," MacLean said. "It's all part of the process."

Estimator Bill Finn said that at the start of any demolition project, crew members work on hazardous material abatement where they look for asbestos, lead, mercury, and oil. Once that process is complete, crew members start demolishing at the end of the building and push inward.

"Normally what we would do is take off all the masonry and send it out for crushing," Finn said. "In this particular situation all the exterior brick was peeled off of the building with a grapple attached to the Cat 330. Then the roof and first and second floors, which were made of wood, just folded in. All the bricks went to the Maine facility."

Finn said they divide up metal, wood and masonry for recycling — wood goes to a recycling facility, metal to a scrap yard, and masonry is made into fill. The remaining trash goes to landfills or to recycling centers.

"At the end of the process we take all of the wood debris and load it into 100-yard containers and then lift the foundation with a hydraulic hammer and take it out to be made into backfill," Finn said.

Some of the equipment used at the 3-acre site included a Cat 330B, Cat 345B, Cat 980C, and a Bobcat S130. As machine operator, Ron Perry worked to take the building down with the Cat 330B; crew members used hoses to keep the dust down.

SMI specializes in cleaning up mold, asbestos, PCBs, lead abatement, and other hazardous materials. MacLean explains that mold contamination in buildings is common and can lead to serious illness and can even be fatal.

"Mold can actually grow inside a person's lungs," said MacLean. "It has to be handled, especially in schools."

Asbestos in buildings is also a common problem. Many buildings that were built before the 1970s are likely to have asbestos in some form. MacLean said that 50 percent of his business is asbestos removal and 50 percent of that is done in schools. Anyone in the New England area who owns a large commercial building is a candidate to be an SMI customer.

Once the site is cleared, the town plans to build a multifloor police station. If the town approves the project and funding, Whitman could hire an architect by July, break ground by September and finish construction in mid-2009.