Asbestos cleanup to make way for new use for former Grand Junction Steel building

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Shaun Witkamp

Jim McConnell doesn’t yet know what will occupy the building that once housed the offices of Grand Junction Steel.

What is certain is what won’t be in the building, and that’s asbestos.

McConnell, the owner of the property, said the asbestos removal project underway inside the office building will provide a clean slate. ”We’re exploring all kinds of uses here.”

Shaun Witkamp, founder of Regional Asbestos Mitigation Services, said he’s pleased his company was selected for effort. “We’re very excited to be a part of this project.”

Founded in 1947, Grand Junction Steel provided structural components for highway and bridge projects across Colorado, including Interstate Highway 70 through Glenwood Canyon and the so-called Mousetrap interchange in Denver.

McConnell bought the company in 1985 and sold it in 2007. The operation closed in 2009.

McConnell still owns the buildings and a 20-acre site he said is one of the largest available in Grand Junction for business use.

Witkamp said he expects a crew of seven people to work 20 days to remove floor tiles, tile adhesive and drywall texture containing asbestos in the office building. Asbestos was found in nearly 5,500 square feet of the building.

Asbestos was once used in a variety of building materials, including everything from flooring, adhesives and drywall texture to ceiling tiles and insulation. Risks occur when asbestos breaks down into microscopically small fibers that can become airborne and inhaled or ingested. Then the mineral can causes cancer, chronic lung conditions and other illnesses.

While asbestos was banned in the United States in the late 1980s, homes and buildings constructed before then could have been built with materials containing asbestos.

Witkamp said his crew at the former Grand Junction Steel building follows strict procedures that require sealing off an area with plastic sheeting, filtering the air and equipping crews with protective suits and respirators. Negative air machines draw air through filters to remove particles.

Colorado imposes some of the most stringent rules of any state in regulating asbestos mitigation. But Witkamp said Regional Asbestos takes requirements a step further. “The safety of my crew is the highest priority.”

If regulations call for a certain thickness of plastic sheeting with 12-inch overlaps, Regional Asbestos might use even thicker sheeting with 14-inch overlaps, Witkamp said. Depending on what’s involved in the project, crews set up not only a work area, but also separate chambers for equipment,  showers and changing.

Abatement projects are inspected after completion and the air tested for the presence of particles. Witkamp said his crews strive to come in below not only minimum levels, but also readable levels.

Witkamp launched Regional Asbestos about eight years ago.  The company operates offices in Grand Junction, Aurora and Colorado Springs and provides services across Colorado and Wyoming.

The company provides a range of asbestos testing and abatement services to residential, commercial and government markets. Witkamp said that can range from inspections and hazard assessments to small and large abatement projects.

The company also has asbestos removal projects underway at an apartment building in Denver, a hotel in Lamar and a condominium in the Winter Park Resort.

Witkamp said he’s grateful he’s been able to keep his staff in place through the coronavirus pandemic.