High Cost of Asbestos Abatement Derailing Another Historic Renovation

Bowen Building in Bartonville, Illinois

In a rough economy with money scarce, the high cost of asbestos abatement continues to halt the renovation projects of many potentially useful and historic  old buildings.

Asbestos regulations don’t come cheaply.

The century-old Bowen Building in Bartonville, Illinois, is a former Peoria State Mental Hospital and is merely the latest example, expected now to sit empty or be demolished after its latest owner balked at the $200,000 price tag for asbestos removal.

The building has been uninhabited since 2008, although the city had hoped it could be renovated and transformed it into a thriving tourist attraction.

Built in 1896, the building had been known as the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane, housing a storied history that included murders, hangings and a wide variety of colorful characters. Since being closed by the state 40 years ago, it has attracted gawkers from around the world, lured by rumors of paranormal activity and a haunted past.

Like most construction of its era, residential and commercial, it originally was built with large amounts of asbestos, which once was considered a valued commodity for its insulating properties. Asbestos has been proven now to cause a variety of health problems, including mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Its removal has become required by the EPA before a renovation project can begin.

“We’re kind of back to square one now,” part-owner/investor Richard Weiss told the Peoria Journal Star newspaper after informing the (Bartonville) village board of trustees that the renovation plan had been abandoned because of the cost.

The city of Bartonville already spent $350,000 to remove asbestos from an old steam factory before it could be demolished nearby, according to the newspaper.

Just last month, the Police Activities League in Salinas, California abandoned its plans to convert an old Armory Hall (built in 1936) into an indoor sports and athletic facility for local children. After spending $150,000 for asbestos abatement, the PAL had no money left to renovate.

In Suffolk, Virginia, the school district there is struggling under regulations that require asbestos containment in nine schools. The city is giving the school district just $75,000 every two years to help cover the cost, but it isn’t enough.

The potential cost of asbestos removal today are commonly factored into the sale of older buildings around the country, particularly if renovations are needed.

The Bowen Building in Bartonville was closed by the Illinois EPA and the Department of Public Health three years ago. According to the newspaper report, Weiss and a partner bought it with no money down  and with no payments required until 2018, believing it could be a thriving tourist attraction long before then.

Even with its doors closed, there have been camp-outs, guided tours and Halloween-type events on the grounds outside that attracted hundreds of people. Weiss said that the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures wants to do a show on the Building.

“I get calls every day for requests to get in, and I can’t even get in,” he said. “We’re not even allowed inside the building, except to secure the area if someone breaks in. We need an investor to get it abated.”

Removing asbestos, from a home or commercial building can be a complicated task, and it usually is better left to an expert. It can be found in roofing and floor tiles, popcorn ceilings, walls, ductwork and insulation. It becomes especially dangerous when it begins to fray, tear or crumble.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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