Despite shoring work, engineer warned of courthouse peril two years ago

Courthouse Document

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Letter from CAS Structural Engineering, Inc. regarding the physical deterioration of the Mahoning County Courthouse.

By Peter H. Milliken


Despite a structural engineer’s warnings of dangerous conditions, the Mahoning County Courthouse still has a temporary roof where statues atop the building were removed in October 2010, and the county still hasn’t proceeded with the building’s long-awaited restoration.

The county commissioners recently advertised for bids to replace boilers and awarded a renovation contract for a new inmate- holding area in the courthouse, but they are still in the final stages of hiring an architect and engineer to oversee the building’s restoration after a contract dispute with the previous architect.

Removal of the statues and shoring up the statue support structure with steel cables “likely prevented a catastrophic collapse,” wrote Carol A. Stevens, a structural engineer, more than two years ago.

However, in her Aug. 24, 2011, letter to Architect Robert Mastriana, who was then guiding the restoration, Stevens said those measures were only temporary.

County commissioners say they don’t want any more delays in correcting the safety hazards and restoring the 102-year-old building.

“We should not procrastinate any longer. We do need to get this done,” said Commissioner Anthony Traficanti. “We must remediate it. It needs to be fixed for public safety,” he added.

“It’s not getting any better. It’s going to gradually get worse, so we have an obligation as elected officials to fix this problem,” Traficanti said, adding that he is concerned about what might happen if there’s another earthquake or a heavy snow load on the roof.

“We need to keep it safe. We need to upgrade it. We need to make it the best building we have,” Carol Rimedio-Righetti, chairwoman of the county commissioners, said of the courthouse. “It’s been too long that we have not started that process” of restoration, she added.

“It’s an historical building. It’s a landmark. It’s one of the few courthouses that are this beautiful with the marble and the woodwork,” Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, said in her courthouse chambers. “I just think that it needs to be done. I can’t wait for it to get done,” she said of the restoration.

Mastriana said in a recent interview that he intended for the shoring up and the temporary roof to be in place for only a few months through the 2010-11 winter before restoration of the statue support area would begin.

“The statue-support structure was collapsing in both directions, both outside over the street and then on the inside on the interior of the roof,” Mastriana said. “If all that mass and weight went down, it would just be catastrophic,” he said.

a temporary fix

“These were not permanent fixes, and the dangerous conditions, while averted, have not been resolved,” Stevens warned in her letter, which Mastriana said he sent via certified mail to all county commissioners.

“When we were told there were defects, we had scaffolding,” at the main entrance to the courthouse, during 2010, said James Fortunato, county purchasing director. “If there were still problems [that required it], that scaffolding would still be up,” he said.

“The courthouse has been stabilized. Granite that was loose was removed. The statues were removed,” and the temporary roof was installed, Fortunato said.

However, Fortunato acknowledged that no new repair or stabilization work has been done in the statue-support area or on anchorages for the balustrade or terra cotta overhang on the courthouse roof since Stevens wrote her letter.

Stevens’ letter cited rusted anchors for the rooftop balustrade, which, in some cases, no longer anchor the balustrade to the building or to adjacent sections of the balustrade, creating the risk of parts of the balustrade falling to the ground. The balustrade is the granite fence around the roof perimeter.

She also cited failing anchorages for the overhanging rooftop terra-cotta cornice at the rear of the building. Terra cotta is molded clay brick or block.

Stevens noted that the building’s deterioration first drew attention when a decorative bracket from the terra cotta cornice fell in May 2007.

The balustrade and cornice anchorages are made from the same rusted carbon steel as the beams supporting the granite slabs in the statue-support structure, Mastriana said.

Righetti said she believes safety concerns were “taken care of first” before she took office in January 2011 “so no one would get hurt.” She said she does not recall seeing the Stevens letter until this month.

Roof probe

During the past two months, RoofTEC Inc. consultants, of Willoughby, investigated the courthouse roof and found that it has moisture underneath and needs to be replaced to avoid further damage to the building, Fortunato said.

“What we’re doing is being proactive to make sure now we’re correcting the exterior right,” he said. “We’ve been moving forward,” he added.

“We’re going to hire a new architect and engineer. The roof’s a priority,” Fortunato said. “We want to proceed as fast as we can,” but must follow Ohio’s competitive-bidding laws, Fortunato said.

Judge Sweeney said water has leaked through the ceiling and into her fourth- floor chambers and onto her desk and carpet from the attic, with buckets being placed in the attic to stop the leak. The leaks occurred this spring and a year earlier, she said.

But Judge Sweeney said safety issues need to be given top priority.

In her letter, Stevens warned that rusted carbon steel beams supporting granite slabs in the statue-support structure “are still deteriorating and still remain unsafe” and may not be able to support a heavy snow load on the roof.

If the beams collapse and the granite slabs fall, Stevens said she could not determine whether they would fall in the building or out onto Market Street.

Stevens, of Alum Creek, W.Va., was a consultant hired first by the county and then by Mastriana for the project.

“Repairs of these elements are crucial to the structural stability and integrity of the building,” wrote Stevens, who Mastriana described as a regionally-recognized expert on restoration of historic buildings.

2009 inspection

Mastriana had presented a report to the county commissioners in March 2010 based on a 2009 inspection, in which he cited the same safety concerns as Stevens and proposed a $9.8 million courthouse restoration project, with rehabilitation of the statue- support structure as first priority.

After a mediator from the American Arbitration Association attempted to resolve a dispute with Mastriana, the commissioners decided last April to advertise anew for an architect and engineer to oversee the restoration.

In April, Righetti said Mastriana’s proposal was too expensive for the county, which had $7 million borrowed and saved for the project.

“We were held up for a while because we had this mediation with 4M,” Righetti said of the 4M Co., of which Mastriana is president.

But Paul Mastriana, Robert’s brother and 4M Co. business manager, had a different version of events.

“They’ve had years to get this stuff in motion, and nothing was happening, so we decided, let’s try to get [county officials] to the table, and let’s discuss the things that are holding this up,” Paul Mastriana said.

Although the county hired Robert Mastriana to perform the initial studies, Righetti said he does not have a contract to oversee the restoration and has been paid for all the work he has done.

However, Paul Mastriana maintained that 4M does have a contract to oversee the restoration and said he thought he had reached a settlement during a mediation session with representatives of the commissioners, in which he tried to reduce the cost of the job to $6 million.

Stevens’ letter to Robert Mastriana, written the day after the Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake centered in Virginia, cites Robert Mastriana’s observation that quake-induced shaking of the building caused brick and other debris to fall within the statue-support structure.

Robert Mastriana said in an interview that he observed books had fallen from the courthouse attic bookshelves onto the floor after the Dec. 31, 2011, 4.0-magnitude earthquake that was linked to an injection well on Youngstown’s West Side.

He said he also observed chunks of brick and stone on the statue-support floor during that New Year’s Day, 2012, inspection.

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