Thursday, December 4, 2014
Officials: Removal of rafters the cause of Bristol building collapse
Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2014
A mistake during the removal of roof rafters led to the partial collapse of a three-story historic building under renovation in Bristol last month that seriously injured a 58-year-old Newtown man, according to a structural engineering report.
In the report, issued the day after the Nov. 5 collapse, the firm Cooke Brown, of Broad Axe, reported the removal of roof rafters on the side of the property facing Mulberry Street led to the collapse.
A Bristol inspector found that two-thirds of the rafters on the third-floor had been removed but not replaced, placing the building in a state of structural instability. The rafters on the other third of the building had been replaced, a Bristol inspector said.
The Cooke Brown report cited additional factors contributing to the collapse including deterioration of bricks, previous failure of the second-floor framing and the force of a bay window on the unsupported wall.
“At all of 301 (Radcliffe Street) and at multiple areas around 303 (Radcliffe Street), and at portions of the party wall, the existing brick walls were observed to be fully unbraced and in severely deteriorated condition,” according to the report.
The report concluded the collapse left the building in a “state of high likelihood” of further collapse. Bristol officials ordered emergency demolition of it on the same day as the collapse.
The Radcliffe Street building’s co-owner and principle contractor, Meny Moore, was on top of the second story overhanging bay window when a wall collapsed, plunging him to the sidewalk and burying him under debris. He remains at Temple University Hospital in stable condition, a borough official said.
Before the collapse, borough property records show the building — a circa 1875 brick and brownstone — was inspected for structural safety in November 2013 shortly after it was purchased by Moore and business partner Shimon Guy, of Delaware County, according to Bristol Building Inspector John Miller.
The inspection, performed in anticipation of the submission of renovation plans, was the first time the property was assessed for safety since an October 2010 arson fire left it severely damaged and vacant, according to borough records.
Bristol does not have a copy of the 2013 inspection in its records because the report was not required as part of the planning process, according to Miller.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching the project’s architect, Tracy Miller, of Hacienda Design Inc., for comment. Tracy Miller was responsible for the 2013 inspection, John Miller said.
A February letter included in Moore’s application to the borough zoning hearing board to renovate the structure referenced its condition. “As a result of significant fire damage to the property, the existing structures are not habitable and require substantial renovation,” the Feb. 24 letter said, according to borough records.
Bristol typically does not conduct safety inspections of vacant and deteriorating properties unless inspectors see a violation or a complaint is filed, John Miller said. The riverfront borough has between 25 and 30 vacant properties, and responsibility for the security and maintenance belongs to the last owner of record, Miller said. Borough officials have no right, barring an emergency, to enter private property.
Miller said he last conducted a cursory visual inspection of the Radcliffe Street property on Oct. 2 when he saw boards were removed from windows.
The October 2010 inspection, also completed by Cooke Brown, found the building’s third-floor presented a “hazard” in its then-current condition and ordered it removed.
The third-floor framing had not been damaged to the point where it created a danger, and the outer walls below were not severely damaged, according to the report. It noted that much of the building’s mansard roof areas and dormers were “not significantly” damaged, “but those walls were dependent on the roof structure to brace and support them.”
Borough records show in March 2012 — about 18 months after the fire — several nearby property owners complained about the condition of the building. At the time, the borough sent then-owner Pat Picariello a letter asking him about his plans for the property.
Later that year Picariello sold the property to Bristol council President Ralph DiGuiseppe, who initially submitted paperwork to renovate the property into two single-family units. DiGuiseppe didn’t pursue the plan, and then sold the property to Moore and Guy in October 2013. Moore planned to renovate the building into two, single-family units and live in one unit and give the other to his son, Miller said.
The same month he bought the building, Moore applied for, and received, a construction permit allowing him to demolish the interior of the building, according to Miller and borough records.
In May, the council approved a plan for framing on the third floor and the installation of a mansard roof as approved by the borough’s historic review board, according to property records. Moore applied for the necessary building permits to replace the roof and to frame the third-floor the same month, but he did not pick up the permit until Oct. 27.
The borough has put a lien against the property to cover the cost of demolition work done in response to cleaning up and securing the property. No cost estimates were available, Miller added.
Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors responded to the property the day of the accident, but suspended a formal investigation after learning Moore was the property owner, said Leni Uddyback-Fortson, regional director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA does not investigate workplace accidents in which employees are not involved, she said.
OSHA initiated an inspection of the property to make sure the demolition of the remaining building was done correctly, Uddyback-Fortson said.
“We want to make sure the remainder of the demolition is done without incident,” she added, but declined to elaborate.