BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The former Kensington Heights apartments in Buffalo, visible from Route 33, have been vacant for years. Now, after a long delay, the eyesore is finally being torn down.
For 30 years, the public housing towers have been vacant, a magnet for graffiti that left neighbors wondering when something would happen there.
Richard Fluellen said, "It looked like some battle scene of a movie and it ain't too good, you know?"
More than three years ago, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes joined Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver outside the towers for a ceremonial start to demolition. But soon after it began, a federal grand jury charged the contractors with illegally disposing of asbestos, and the work stopped.
"They should've been down," Peoples-Stokes said. "The fact that they are just now coming down, while it's a little disappointing, it's gratifying."
Before the court delays, the plan was for HLM Holding to build a continuing care retirement community. But since then, ECMC moved forward with a continuing care facility of its own on its campus.
Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority officials say now the request for proposals process has to start over again before officials can announce what will be built.
"It's not my understanding that there is a a rock solid plan, but if there's going to be a plan, I certainly would like to be at the table and would like to strenuously encourage them to do something that benefits the senior community in Buffalo," Peoples-Stokes said.
Common Council Majority Leader Demone Smith said, "It's kind of open right now. We have a number of people who would like to see a supermarket over there. We have seen some people who want to see a senior campus over there."
The BMHA released the following statement:
Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority contractors are knocking down the first building and already sealed the other five at the Kensington Heights demolition project.
"For the first time in decades, progress is visible at Kensington Heights. The BMHA is on schedule and committed to meeting our goals with the property," said Dawn E. Sanders, the BMHA's executive director. "As we said when the EPA agreed to our plan last winter, demolition of the first building would be underway in October."
The main contractor, Aria Construction Inc., of Orchard Park, is on schedule in conducting the work with a subcontractor and an outside monitor. AAC, an asbestos-abatement subcontractor, and Stohl Environmental, which performs air and soil monitoring during work on the site, are also involved.
Work began May 10 on the former Kensington Heights apartments' demolition, following a BMHA plan the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved earlier this year. Nearly five months into that work, five of the six buildings are fully wrapped in double-ply polyurethane on the outside of all openings and are being maintained in perfect condition; remediation of all asbestos-containing materials is underway; and contaminated soil is being removed.
"It's a credit to the city, our state delegation and the BMHA team, as well as our contractors, that visible progress is evident on this long dormant site," Sanders said. "We expect to continue work into the late fall, and are still trying to find funding for the second phase of the project."
Buildings #1 and #2 are fully remediated; demolition on #1 started Sept. 24 and demolition on #2 is expected to start in late October, as planned.
As of Oct. 1, a 25-foot perimeter of soil around Building #1 was properly wetted and removed to a minimum of a 2-inch depth as per the EPA work plan and variances. The area was visually inspected and cleared. Air-monitoring samples were reported Sept. 24 as passing the lab analysis, meaning the building was ready for outside brick removal.
A large grass area between buildings #1 and #2 was visually inspected and cleared according to the EPA plan. Air-monitoring samples passed analysis. That site area is now considered abated and cleared as part of the Phase 1 work by Aria.
On Sept 24, Aria set up a power shovel equipped with a long "picker arm," to pull down the building's brick façade and cement block. Two water misters thoroughly wet the vertical face of the building and the demolition material on the ground. Removal of all brick and block walls began this month and work is progressing at the rate of removing two wall faces a day. In addition, asbestos-containing materials were painted bright yellow for easy tracking in the debris pile.
All soil remediation under Phase 1 is complete. The only soil work remaining will be the re-cleaning of the soil perimeter around Building #1 after the current demolition is complete, and the perimeter area of Building #2 prior to demolition and then a re-cleaning after demolition is complete.
The building faces were properly wetted with an elevated mister on a power lift, and the demolished material was kept wet with a ground-level mister. First-floor masonry will be removed
after the piles of masonry debris from the upper floors are removed.
Workers next pulled debris away from the face of the building so that the piles could safely be inspected for any separation of asbestos-containing materials and that without asbestos. All activities were done while being sprayed with a fire hose. It appears that the demolition process will cause the masonry to be mixed together to a degree that separation will be very difficult resulting in the majority of the debris being considered contaminated and disposed of according to permits.
At Building #2, abatement work is done except for a few items discovered on a pre-final visual inspection. Stohl and the New York State Department of Labor will inspect the work and monitor the air. Building #2 will be ready for demolition by late October, and will take five to six weeks.
Buildings #3, 4, 5, and 6 all have thick polyurethane covering of all windows and buildings are under full containment. Inspection of the buildings under full containment is provided daily, five days per week, by Aria Contracting and Stohl Environmental. Any breaches discovered are immediately repaired.
An eight-foot-high perimeter security fence is monitored daily to ensure no breaches by trespassers. Aria provides on-site security from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. seven days a week.
The BMHA is using $3.3 million remaining from a $5 million New York State Dormitory Authority grant to conduct the work. Under the EPA plan's requirements, an additional $5 million to $10 million will be needed to complete the project and demolish the other four buildings.
On Feb. 2, 2012 the EPA endorsed the BMHA plan for asbestos remediation at the former apartment buildings. The BMHA/EPA plan addresses the complete abatement, removal, clean-up, packaging and disposal of asbestos-containing materials in and around the buildings at the site.
Kensington Heights, built in 1958, has been vacant since 1980. Formerly a state development, its six seven-story brick apartment buildings have stood as eyesores on 16 acres of Buffalo's East Side for three decades, visible to motorists on the nearby 33. There are approximately 67 units per building as well as some common area space and onsite parking.
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