Evacuating Oakhill was ‘right thing,’ official says
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
The chairman of the Mahoning County commissioners defended county Administrator George J. Tablack’s decision to close Oakhill Renaissance Place for the rest of the afternoon after the June 23 earthquake.
“I wasn’t here when it happened. I heard that the building shook and that it was immediately evacuated by our administrator,” Traficanti said in a rushed interview as he left the courthouse after Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting.
“We felt: Err on the side of caution as opposed to anything else; and we did the right thing,” Traficanti said.
Commissioner John A. McNally IV said Tablack called him at 3:30 p.m., about two hours after the quake, and informed him Oakhill workers were sent home for the day because of concerns about possible structural damage to the building.
A subsequent inspection by Kurt Seidler of Seidler Engineering and Pete Triveri, county facilities director, found the former hospital complex structurally safe. Located on a hill overlooking downtown Youngstown, the county-owned Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
McNally and Judee Genetin, acting director of the county’s Department of Job and Family Services, which is housed at Oakhill, said they weren’t aware of any other Youngstown public buildings being evacuated because of the 5.0 magnitude quake, whose epicenter was near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Genetin said, however, a Canton building housing legal-aid lawyers, public defenders and the Stark County Children Services Board was evacuated and closed for the rest of the day because of the quake.
According to a report in the Canton Repository, the 98-year-old, 13-story Renkert building at Third Street and Market Avenue in Canton was closed by one of the building’s owners. After they were told the building was closed, Children Services supervisors sent two people in at a time to retrieve personal belongings, the Repository reported.
As far as she knows, there’s nothing about the five-story Oakhill complex that makes it especially vulnerable to earthquake damage, Genetin said.
All Oakhill workers returned to the building the morning after the quake, and all county workers at Oakhill will be paid for the hours during which they were evacuated, Genetin added.
“I didn’t notice anything at all,” said Barry Landgraver, director of the county’s Veterans’ Service Commission, which is on Oakhill’s first floor.
He said, however, that people who work on the upper floors told him they felt the building shake and rattle.
Landgraver said a JFS Medicaid worker coming down a stairway told him the building was being evacuated.
“Then I yelled down the hall, ‘Everybody get out,’” Landgraver said. “There were hundreds of people outside. They emptied the building.”
Landgraver added that the city fire department was on the scene.
After he and his staff were outside for 40 minutes, Landgraver said, a deputy sheriff told him the complex was closed until further notice, and he and his staff re-entered the building, shut down their equipment and left.
“I was in the building, but I did not feel it,” said Eva Ibarra, site manager for the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership’s Head Start program.
Ibarra said she was on the second floor of a separate building, where her agency rents space in the Oakhill complex, that building being the former hospital administration building. She said Triveri ordered her to evacuate as a precaution.
Although she said she didn’t feel anything, Ibarra said two members of her staff sitting in cars in an Oakhill surface parking lot during their lunch breaks reported to her that they felt their cars shake.