PHOTO shows Stephen Wintle of Facility Management Group Incorporated peering into a tunnel which was discovered in the basement of the Penobscot County Courthouse. The four foot deep tunnels snakes under the building and was used for ventilation. Photo taken Friday, March 28, 2008 for the Bangor Daily News by Kate Collins.
Bangor: Courthouse work yields surprises, hazards
By Judy Harrison
Friday, April 04, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
BANGOR, Maine - Murphy's Law has been hard at work in the basement of the Penobscot County Courthouse. Since renovations began last fall, the century-old building has revealed a few hidden secrets and more hazardous material than expected.
The latest discovery (a system of tunnels that appears to have been part of the original building's ventilation system> came last week when workers removed the concrete floor. The original building was completed in 1833. The tunnels are not on the plans for the courthouse that was constructed between 1901 and 1903.
Davis speculated that the system might have been left over from the original courthouse built on the same site. It was torn down when construction on the current building began as the 20th century dawned.
The entire concrete floor, several inches thick, was removed by hand, a few chunks at a time, in wheelbarrows last week. A new concrete floor is expected to be poured later this month once it's determined how to keep the ventilation system from being filled in, according to Collins.
"When they peeled the onion, they found more things that we did not know existed," Collins said. "We found silica that had to be removed along with more asbestos and more lead paint. One of the bigger secrets is that we've found more tunnels that we didn't know existed."
As the project began last fall and the walls came out in one room, old steam pipes and a tunnel, believed to have been installed when the building was completed in 1903, were uncovered. They have been sealed off.
They appeared to go under Court Street to the former YMCA building. That building was constructed in 1890 and replaced in 1970 with the current structure.
The tunnels yielded yet another unwelcome surprise -- several 5-gallon cans that contained a chemical that has yet to be identified. In addition to testing the cans, soil in the tunnels where they were found will be tested for contamination.
From a historical perspective, the finds have been exciting but sometimes a little scary, Collins said.
"We've truly peeled back the onion skin and we're making it a much better place and a safer place," he said. "One of the things we found was an electrical conduit laid in the floor that had rusted away. There were exposed live wires under the floor. That's simply too dangerous."
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