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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 8/24/16. Asbestos has been discovered in the ceiling of the Chattanooga Public Library's third floor as preparations to replace the lighting had begun.
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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 8/24/16. Asbestos has been discovered in the ceiling of the Chattanooga Public Library's third floor as preparations to replace the lighting had begun.

Chattanooga Public Library Director Corinne Hill hit her fingers into her hand as she spoke about the asbestos on three floors of the downtown library, emphasizing each point in her plan to get rid of it.

"There's never been any danger. It wasn't a surprise," she said. "The rehabilitation of the asbestos has been part of [a lighting upgrade] project all along."

She spoke Wednesday after enduring a host of morning telephone calls and meetings about asbestos in sprayed ceilings on three floors of the library.

Word about the asbestos spread Tuesday after the Chattanooga History Center posted the information on its website.

Hill said she didn't know the post was there until she got a call from a television station telling her about it.

She said history center personnel had inaccurately posted that it wasn't moving to the library because of the asbestos. She said the library couldn't allow the center to come there without financial compensation, and that wasn't in place.

The history center could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, the post was removed.

The downtown public library was built in the 1970s, Hill said. Like many buildings erected during that period, asbestos was used. It's sprayed on the library's interior and is a part of the popcorn-textured ceilings on the first, second and third floors, she said.

"It was used for fire prevention. It was for safety, which is kind of ironic," said Hill.

She reiterated that the library is safe. She and her staff have been working in the building daily, she said.

But not even a small amount of asbestos, which has been shown to cause cancer, can be tolerated in buildings, she said.

She expects the asbestos removal to begin in September and be complete in September 2017.

The goal is to do one floor at a time, and that floor will be off limits to the public. No books or services will be cut off from the public, she said. She expects some services to move to the fourth floor during the cleanup, Hill said.

The Rev. Leroy Griffith said he trusts the library and believes its staff will keep the public safe. His 12-year-old grandson Hezekiah McDonald visits almost daily during the summer and on Saturdays during the school year.

"I may not trust everybody, but the library folks have been wonderful people and everyone there that I meet cares about children," he said.

Library officials had discussed the asbestos cleanup about a year ago when they were planning the facility's $1.5 million lighting upgrade. The cost of the cleanup is included in the upgrade and accounts for less than 10 percent of that budget, she said.

The upgrade means all 1970s-style fluorescent lights in the library will be replaced with LED lighting. That is expected to cut the library's electric bill in half.

Hill said staff members are constantly working to improve the building. The building's been washed, and now Hill is getting ready to have the windows cleaned and upgrade the landscaping by extending it to the sidewalk, she said.

At the end of her conversation, she leaned back in her chair and sighed.

"I know asbestos is a scary word, but any building built in that time period is going to have that material," she said. "The staff members have known about it. It's a safe environment. We've been working here."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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