BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — A case could be made that the demolition of the old library at Salem State University has gone on forever.
Borings and other pre-demolition tests began soon after the library closed in 2007, when it was deemed structurally unsound.
A rear section of the building came down several years ago to make way for the new Frederick E. Berry Library and Learning Commons, which opened this month.
A white, Christo-like tarp went over the remaining section of the library last spring, when demolition began in earnest on a building that had been adorned in scaffolding for years.
This final phase of the demolition, which started around May, is still going on and isn’t scheduled to be done until December.
Despite the truck traffic, noise, dust and other by-products of demolition, there have been relatively few complaints about this project, according to city officials and a neighborhood group.
Until this past weekend.
The noise of jackhammers and street congestion finally got to residents, several of whom lodged complaints with the city. While the mayor’s office said it heard from only one person, the building inspector and a city councilor said they have received several calls in recent days.
Building Inspector Tom St. Pierre said he contacted a state inspector yesterday to forward the dust complaints and reports of jackhammering on Saturday, which would violate a city ordinance. He pointed out, however, that this is a state project under state regulations and oversight.
One resident said that while Saturday was the worst, problems have been ongoing.
“The noise and dust are constant problems,” said Phil Moran, an attorney who lives across the street. “We actually have cracks in our walls.”
Saturday’s intensive demolition work was an “anomaly,” according to Karen Cady, a spokeswoman for Salem State.
She said a “precarious” section of the building near the sidewalk had to be taken down on Saturday when the college was not in session. For that reason, the sidewalk was blocked off and traffic on Lafayette Street was narrowed to one lane.
“It was purely for safety reasons,” she said.
Cady stressed that university officials are aware of how trying the demolition has been for neighbors.
“We acknowledge this is a very difficult process for everyone, especially the immediate neighbors, and we wish we could just make the whole thing go away overnight,” she said. “Unfortunately, this is the only way we can remove the building and remove it safely.”
One reason the project is moving so slowly, she said, is that the library is being deconstructed floor by floor to comply with guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Cady said the library is being demolished under an “EPA-approved work plan” based on extensive testing of materials in the building.
“It really is to address environmental concerns,” she said. “It’s really not up to us or the contractor to decide how to bring it down. It was strictly outlined by the EPA.”
Moran said he fears the seemingly endless demolition will go beyond December.
“This building is like the Rock of Gibraltar,” he said. “They can’t knock it down.”
Residents can contact the university’s external affairs office at 978-542-7757 to get on a mailing list for regular construction updates or to find out about meetings of the Neighborhood Advisory Committee, Cady said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.