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Asbestos adds to concerns at city garage

A leaky water pipe encased in asbestos raised new concerns this week at an aging city-owned building that was cited for health and safety violations several years ago.

Public works officials insisted that the problem discovered Wednesday at the Broadway Garage at 197 Broadway was handled expeditiously. They said it caused no health threat to the 30 employees who work in the garage, the nerve center for city snow-fighting operations.

An environmental remediation firm sealed off an area near a mechanic's shop after a city plumber who was dispatched to fix a leak discovered that the pipe was wrapped in asbestos, said Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra.

Many older buildings contain asbestos insulation. Inhaling airborne asbestos fibers can cause cancer. "It's not an immediate safety hazard when it's wet," said Giambra.

The city hired Fibertech Environmental Services to remove the asbestos. Company officials said the work was completed Thursday.

This isn't the first time safety issues have surfaced inside the Broadway Garage. Much of the structure was built over a century ago as an auditorium that hosted boxing matches, wrestling and other events. One wall dates back to the 1850s, when Buffalo's first armory was built on the site.

Four years ago, sections of a rotting roof crashed to the floor. A year earlier, state inspectors uncovered more than 100 health and safety violations, including exposed electrical wires and crumbling ceilings. The city has since spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on repairs and plans to replace some pipes this year.

Giambra has pushed unsuccessfully twice in the past several years to build a replacement facility that would centralize all vehicle maintenance and storage tasks. City officials concluded that they didn't have the money for a $25 million center that was planned in the Ferry-Fillmore area.

Giambra said it looks like street services operations will remain in a structure commonly called the Broadway Barns for quite some time.

"The building clearly needs some help, but I'm sensing we're not going to have $25 million for a new building in the next several years," he said. "It's not what you would call a sexy project."

Giambra is convinced the ongoing repairs have rectified health and safety issues.

But William C. Travis, the union president who represents blue-collar workers, said he thinks it's time to reconsider building a new facility. "I know things are tight," he said. "But to continue to pour money into the Broadway Garage is like throwing money out the window."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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