Major armory project complicated by PCB in old paint

BENNINGTON — PCBs found in decades-old wall paint at the Bennington Armory has triggered an intense, three-phase remediation project, now expected to be completed in 2020.

The work in a downtown structure the town has expressed interest in acquiring was prompted by discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls in the paint, which dates back to the mid-1900s.

The problem was uncovered during a renovation project in the basement to add handicap-access bathrooms for the 94-year-old armory, said Lt. Col. Jacob Roy, program manager for Construction and Facilities Management with the Vermont National Guard.

In the process, Roy said, PCBs "were found in the paint throughout the building, which triggered a total remediation project."

He said the Guard proposed a three-phase plan to deal with the PCB-contaminated paint, which was approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"The phases were broken down to the basement, the drill hall and the office areas," Roy said. "The overall project is very intensive in that some of the paint was applied directly to the exterior brick walls, as well as load bearing walls on the interior of the structure. These areas had to be dealt with carefully as to not destroy any brick and possibly damage the structural and historical integrity. Due to leaching of PCBs into the brick, these walls also had to be encapsulated with a special two-layer epoxy paint."

Roy said phase one of the project targeted the basement of the historic brick structure, which is located on Franklin Lane, almost directly behind the town offices and close to the historic Hotel Putnam and Old Courthouse buildings that are part of the Putnam Block redevelopment project.

"The interior of the basement was totally removed to the main walls and structural supports; PCB areas were either removed or encapsulated, and the basement was totally reconstructed," Roy said. "Phase two is planned for summer of 2018 and phase three is for summer of 2020."

The PCB contamination was within the paint, Roy said.

"The paint age and type is undetermined; however, it is anticipated that it dates back to the mid-1900s," he said. "The EPA has documented that PCBs were used in building materials between 1950s and 1970s to improve performance in different applications. This included paint. Where the paint came from that ended up on the walls in the Bennington Armory is unknown."

Much of the basement was encapsulated with a special EPA-approved epoxy paint because the PCB leached into the brick of the building, he said, and removing the brick or grinding the PCB contaminate out of the brick would have destroyed the historic aspects of the building and potentially destabilized the structure itself.

Town remains interested

The Guard also continues to explore other sites "for the feasibility of constructing a new armory in the Bennington area," Roy said.

About seven years ago, the Guard sought proposals for a Bennington County site for a new readiness center

and received suggestions for parcels in Bennington, Pownal and Sunderland.

In 2012, the Bennington Select Board approved a tentative agreement with the Guard that that would have allowed the town to acquire the armory if a new facility was constructed for the local unit. That now discontinued plan, which involved a swap of town-owned land at the former Jard Co. site off Bowen Road for the armory, apparently was put on hold as the recession deepened and federal construction funding for a new center became unavailable.

The cost of a new Guard readiness center was estimated in 2011 at about $10 million.

Town Manager Stuart Hurd said this week there is no current effort to acquire the downtown site, but "we would continue to express an interest in the armory, since it is a key building, right in a [municipal] parking area and now has handicap access."

Lead abatement work

The ongoing work follows an unrelated lead abatement project to clean up residue from a former

guard firing range in the building.

"The lead project was a separate project completed before the PCB project started" Roy said. "Post-cleaning tests indicate that all lead and lead dust pertaining to the former indoor firing range area has been removed."

Catamount Environmental was awarded the $24,750 cleanup contract in September 2016, and the work focused on the basement area, where the indoor firing range was located until 1999, and on equipment stored in the building, as well as other surface areas throughout the armory.

Lead dust contamination in hundreds of National Guard armories around the country was identified as a potential health issue since the 1990s, primarily where indoor shooting ranges were housed.

Public events on the main floor of the Bennington Armory had been discontinued in 2015 to allow for the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance renovation project, including the bathrooms, which uncovered the PCB paint issue.

The brick armory has two floors and a full basement, with roughly 20,500 square feet of floor space. Its dimensions are 126 by 65 feet.

The armory is the base for Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 172nd Calvary Regiment, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), which is associated with the Army's 10th Mountain Division.

Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and He can be reached at 802-447-7567, ext. 114. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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