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GSU: Renovating Bell Building could cost at least $18 million, require cleaning up pigeon poop

Leader of effort to save building urges GSU to find cash or consider selling property

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?Downtown residents and preservationists are pushing Georgia State University to bring Auburn Avenue's historic Bell Building back to life, not demolish it to make way for a temporary parking lot. But school officials claim such a project is cost prohibitive. Meanwhile, City Hall officials are also expressing concerns about Georgia State's proposal.
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? Georgia State Spokeswoman Andrea Jones told CL on Friday evening that the school's facilities management team estimated renovations to the Bell could cost from $18 million to $22 million, or $275 to $325 per square foot.
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? Jones, who said the building has not been occupied since 1983 and was in disrepair when the school acquired the property, said those figures are based on Georgia State's previous renovation and repurposing of buildings such as 75 Piedmont Avenue, Centennial Hall, and 25 Park Place. 
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? Though the school did not conduct a comprehensive structural assessment of the property, an asbestos and hazardous material analysis obtained by CL via an Open Records Request found that the building contains nasty substances. That's somewhat expected considering the building has sat vacant and unsecured for more than 30 years. (We've embedded the report at the end of the post.)
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? Inspectors who visited the building over the summer confirmed the presence of "potential PCB equipment, (light ballasts, transformers, hydraulic equipment, etc.) and the presence of mercury-containing light fixtures and thermostats," according to the report. "Other potentially hazardous issues observed and investigated include the visual assessment of mold growth and the accumulation of large quantities of pigeon droppings." 
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? According to the report, we're talking about 12,000 cubic feet in pigeon droppings. Mold covers approximately 10,000 square feet of the building's surfaces. Crews also discovered five unlabeled 55-gallon steel drums possibly containing "hydraulic fluid with the potential to contain PCBs." They also suspect an underground storage tank might be located on the property. 
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? Inspectors recommend in the report that, prior to demolition taking place, school officials pay to have some of the hazardous materials cleaned up. The line-item rundown of cleaning up the various substances totals just over $400,000. That's not pocket change but also not an astronomical amount.
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? Darin Givens, the Downtown resident and author of the ATL Urbanist blog who launched Save the Bell, a grassroots effort to save the building, says the school needs to consider the asset in its possession. 
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? "It's wrong for GSU, particularly since it's a school with a Historic Preservation masters program, to treat this building as it would any real estate holding," he says. "The Bell is a building with high visibility, next to Woodruff Park. It's part of a small, precious stock of old structures in downtown that add much-needed authenticity to surrounding blocks deaded by blank walls and parking." 
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? Givens says he's had conversations with two local developers who have expressed an interest in purchasing and renovating the building. The Bell is across the street from an Atlanta Streetcar stop, one block from Woodruff Park, a short walk to MARTA rail, and in the middle of Georgia State's campus. If the school can't make the numbers work, Givens says, the school should find the cash for preservation — or sell the property to someone who can. 
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? "With a campus that extends into the historic heart of the city and includes old structures like this, they need to have some flexibility built into their real estate plans that allows for preservation even at the cost of letting go of those properties," he says. "If GSU can't afford to be good stewards of a key historic property like this, the answer shouldn't be demolition. It should be to reach out for funding that allows them to renovate it or let it go so that someone else can do it."
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? Givens and other Bell supporters might have an influential figure on their side. According to WSB-TV's Matt Johnson, City Hall officials say they will deny Georgia State's request to demolish the building. Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane and other city officials plan to meet with Georgia State leaders about the plan.
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? "To lose a building there, especially over some interim period, to parking, would be a real shame," Keane says.
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? ?? Bell Building Hazardous Material Report, June 2015 by thomaswheatley????




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