By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — A building material coating containing asbestos that was discovered in the high school can be safely left in the building after the renovation, officials say.
The material was discovered in September as workers gutted the south wing of the 1970s-era school, which is sealed off from the rest of the building as it undergoes a complete renovation. Most of the material is a coating and is non-friable, meaning it does not easily break into small fragments.
“The coating was found, and a work plan was put in place,” said Gino Baroni, owner of Trident, the Salem, N.H., project management company overseeing the $100 million renovation project.
The substance that was found was a mastic applied to some of the vertical steel beams on the south wing as a waterproofing to prevent rust, Baroni said. Part of the project included welding stiffeners to some of these beams.
Consigli, the construction company working on the building, and Trident drew up a plan for the Department of Environmental Protection to work around the mastic.
After several meetings, DEP in October approved a plan to attach the stiffeners to parts of the beam without the asbestos mastic after the contractor conducted a test to make sure heat from the welding did not melt the substance, said Joseph Ferson, a spokesman for DEP.
Once the work is complete, the mastic and beams will remain as they are and sealed up again inside the walls.
The contractor also hired American Environmental of Holyoke to haul away and dispose of some insulation board and block that had the mastic on it. Ferson said DEP approved a window of Nov. 2 through Dec. 31 to conduct that work.
Baroni said the main issue with the mastic is not inhabitability because the entire wing has been sealed off from the occupied north wing. Rather, the concern was for welders and others working nearby.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mastics contain between 5 and 25 percent asbestos.
This phase of the renovation project, during which the new wing will be built and the south wing will be renovated inside and out, is due to be done mid-2013. Classes for sophomores, juniors and seniors, now currently in the north wing, will be moved to the completed portions while the north wing is renovated next year.
Freshmen are currently at the former Central Elementary School on Ditson Place.
The whole project is scheduled to be completed by summer 2014 and be open in time for the 2014-15 school year.