Utah State Prison inmates will help remove asbestos from a portion of the State Office Building behind the Capitol this summer so the building can be remodeled to accommodate more workers.

Building employees were briefed Wednesday by the state Division of Facilities Construction and Management on the plan to seal off two floors and a portion of a third in the building so the toxic material can be scraped away.The building will be the second where specially trained prisoners are used to remove asbestos. The group recently stripped asbestos from a building donated to the College of Eastern Utah in Price.

The latest project, expected to be completed in August 1989, will cost about $2 million, according to Neal Stowe, division director. Eventually, asbestos throughout the rest of the building will also need to be removed, he said.

Asbestos was identified in a material used to coat walls in the six-story office building three years ago. At that time, division officials determined it was not hazardous if left undisturbed.

But now it needs to be removed so the division can go ahead with plans to remodel the building to accommodate workers from the overcrowded Heber M. Wells state office building located downtown.

Remodeling could shake loose the fibrous material, sending it into the air where it could be inhaled and cause potentially deadly diseases such as lung cancer.

The plan calls for state employees to be moved from a portion of the first floor and all of the third and fourth floors during the next two months so the inmates and consultants can seal off the area and begin work.

The inmates have taken a 16-hour course from division and prison instructors in how to handle asbestos and have passed a 50-question test required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Division officials say that the inmates are no danger to state employees and will be supervised by three officers and two guards while working. They have an incentive to behave because they are getting experience that will be valuable once they are paroled, Stowe said.

Some inmates have been able to use the skills that earned them only a minimal hourly wage as prisoners to land jobs with asbestos abatement companies that pay as much as $17 an hour, division officials said.

The State Office Building has been cited as the most contaminated state facility, Stowe said, adding it will cost at least $40 million to clean up asbestos in all state buildings.

The estimate does not include buildings in the state's higher education system, which has not been surveyed yet for asbestos.