Hazardous materials mostly removed from Fernie Museum building following remedial construction

The Fernie Museum. Stock photo. (Joshua Fischlin/The Free Press)The Fernie Museum. Stock photo. (Joshua Fischlin/The Free Press)

The Fernie Museum recently went through a process of removing the majority of the hazardous materials that were baked into its structure from when it was built in 1909.

The remediation work was part of a larger string of renovations that began with the roof a few years ago. Following that, the City of Fernie, which owns the building, commissioned a hazardous materials assessment, which found asbestos, lead (in the old paint), mercury (in the fluorescent lights), and a small amount of mould in the building basement, according to Mike Palamarek, who sits on the board of the museum.

The gap in activity was due to needing more funding for the project and waiting on a grant, Palamarek said.

“There was never really a risk to be in the building,” said Palamarek, who explained that the risk only comes when the materials are disturbed.

“We needed to do a renovation in the basement, so of course once you start doing a renovation, you’re demolishing all the old materials and putting new materials in, and that’s where the concern was.”

The remediation work was done in the building’s basement and stairwell and took around five weeks, completing on Feb. 4. It was labelled as ‘phase one’ of a project whose second phase will see a broader renovation of the building’s basement, stairwells, and upper floor.

Phase one involved “quite an extensive bit of work,” and was successful in ridding the building of medium and high risk hazardous materials.

There are some low risk materials still in the building, such as the lead paint in a mechanical room on the second floor, and some asbestos in the old window caulking, but the remediation phase of the project “went really well”, according to Palamarek.

“It was on budget, it was on schedule.”

Phase two of the project, the renovation portion, began on Feb. 10. The basement is set to get a “full meal deal”, with flooring, walls, ceiling, lighting, heating, computer networks, and plumbing all on the docket. The basement will be turned into a more accessible educational material storage and work space.

The main floor will not see much change, aside from at the stairwell at the back of the museum, which will see a restoration with the original 110-year-old wooden mouldings, which were all saved, Palamarek said.

The second floor exhibit space will also be opened up more to allow for concerts and social gatherings.

Funding for the project is coming from two grants, one from the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) awarded to the city in 2017 worth $175,000, and one from Heritage BC for $224,000 that was awarded to the Fernie and District Historical Society.

The previous roof work was funded with $75,000 of the CBT grant, and the rest of that grant, plus about $100,000 of the Heritage BC grant, was used for the remediation work.