The six-story office building behind the State Capitol contains more asbestos than any other public building in Utah, and employees will be rearranged during the next nine months while crews of prisoners remove the harmful substance, officials said.

Neal Stowe, director of the state's Facilities and Management Department, said the state will pay just under $2 million to remove asbestos from the second and third floors of the building. Money was not available for work on the other four floors.While they are at it, crews will strengthen the building so it can withstand the shock of an earthquake, he said.

The work is scheduled to begin in about three weeks.

"This is the worst building in the state," Stowe said, referring to the asbestos-coated substance lining the ceiling in his office and the weakness of the structure. "Were we to have an earthquake, this building would collapse."

The state will train and use state prisoners to remove the asbestos. Officials made that decision after learning it would cost $6 million to hire a company for the work.

Prisoners chosen for the job will all be non-smokers who are nearing a parole date.

Stowe said the prisoners will not be competing with private business because there are few asbestos-removal companies in Utah and they all have plenty to do.

The asbestos removal is not absolutely necessary, but Stowe said it will protect the state from future court battles.

Unlike it has with school districts, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has not required the state to remove asbestos from its office buildings. The state's school districts are scrambling to meet an Oct. 12 deadline imposed by the EPA to inspect all buildings, identify asbestos and develop plans to remove or encapsulate it so loose fibers don't pose a health risk to people in the buildings.

The state will spend about $50 million to rid the schools of asbestos. Stowe said he believes the EPA will one day require states to remove asbestos from all its buildings.

Much of the carpet already has been removed from Stowe's office. The Facilities and Management Department soon will move from the third to the first floor and to parts of the Capitol basement, Stowe said.

The office building was completed in the early 1960s. Two years ago, Stowe ordered that routine remodeling be stopped in the building to avoid loosening asbestos fibers. Because of that, some parts of the building are unoccupied.

"This is a dynamic building," Stowe said. "People are always moving."

When the project is complete, state employees can again fill all corners of the building, he said.