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Asbestos removal estimates awaited

County officials have yet to hear how much it could cost to eliminate the threat of asbestos and lead-based paint in the historic Hernando County courthouse.

Workers recently discovered the hazardous materials while renovating the 80-year-old structure on Main Street. A survey four years ago failed to reveal the materials. Their apparent absence had allowed the county to move forward with renovation plans.

Since the county released a report about the asbestos and lead-based paints last week, renovation work has ceased in the 1913 building. Work continues in the 1974 addition.

"As with all scenarios, these are not always as bad as they sound. Nor is it always as good as we would like," County Administrator Chuck Hetrick said. "When you are renovating buildings, you never know what you'll find."

Officials say the materials do not pose an immediate threat to those who work in the older building. However, County Commissioner June Ester said the county will move employees before the abatement process begins.

Hetrick said Professional Service Inc. of Clearwater soon should provide cost estimates for three abatement options. One option would be to build new walls to seal in paint and asbestos, but that could cost the courthouse its historical integrity.

"Right now we're not entertaining giving up anything of historical value," said Glenn Brown, the county's engineering assistant on the renovation project.

Activists this spring fought a plan that would have closed two entrances to the building for office space. And County Commissioner John Richardson argued against replacing the old windows before he knew lead-based paint was buried under layers of acceptable paint.

"(Abatement) won't be cheap by any stretch of the imagination," Ester said. "If we only contain it, it will have be dealt with later down the line. We either have to contain it, remove it or don't use the old courthouse at all."

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