2nd downtown high-rise to be evacuated

Staff photo / Ed Runyan An unidentified worker walks in front of the Realty Tower early Monday. The building exploded May 28, injuring six people and killing one person.

YOUNGSTOWN — The structural engineering firm hired by the city Friday to examine the Realty Tower, which was heavily damaged in an explosion May 28, has recommended the evacuation of the International Towers building next door.

A news release from the office of Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown states the report from Barber & Hoffman Consulting Engineers was issued Monday and finds the Realty Tower building at 47 E. Federal St. remains structurally unsafe and suggests the evacuation of the 16-story International Towers at 25 Market St.

“As a result of the findings, the fire chief has notified building management that an evacuation process must begin,” Brown’s release states.

“Unfortunately, this is not the result we anticipated; however the public safety and well-being of our residents is our top priority. We are actively working with the appropriate agencies and organizations to find solutions for the residents as quickly as possible.”

Brown plans to give an update on the situation at 11 a.m. today but a location has not yet been announced.

The board of control on Thursday approved a $7,500 initial contract with Barber & Hoffman for the firm to determine if the building will collapse as the result of a May 28 explosion, and if debris can be moved to check on the building’s structural integrity, said Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works.

The firm, based in Cleveland, will provide a report with evaluations and opinions on the structural integrity of the building. Part of the work included looking to see how safe it is to remove debris in and around the building, Brown said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation into the explosion at Realty, asked the city to hire a “neutral party” to serve as structural engineer to determine “if it’s even safe for them to enter the building,” Brown said.

Shasho said Thursday, “The building is not safe to enter. It’s not going to be safe. There’s always going to be a danger there. It’s partially destroyed. What they (NTSB) want to know is, is there an imminent failure? That’s the key phrase here.”

No one has been permitted inside the building since shortly after the explosion.

The $7,500 payment is a retainer. Once Barber & Hoffman are inside, the firm will provide an estimate for the additional work, Shasho said.

Law Director Lori Shells Simmons, a board of control member, said late Wednesday she wasn’t sure if the proposal would get board approval as her staff was still reviewing the contract. However, she said right before the Thursday meeting that her staff was comfortable with the contract language.

Also, Finance Director Kyle Miasek, a board member, had the proposal amended as the funding initially was coming out of the city’s environmental sanitation fund. The funding source was moved to the street department’s demolition fund.

The two sit on the board with Brown.

The city is using the services of ProQuality Demolition, a Youngstown company, to help Barber & Hoffman move some of the construction debris. ProQuality was hired on an emergency basis with the work being documented for payment, Shasho said.

Barber & Hoffman didn’t want any of the debris — even items outside of the fenced-in section around Realty — touched until it arrived Friday, Brown said.

Structural engineers for the owner of the building — YO Properties 47 LLC — as well as that company’s insurance company also will look at Realty, Brown said.

Six minutes after a gas line at Realty Tower was cut for the third time, an explosion occurred, heavily damaging the building, including the Chase Bank branch on the first floor. Akil Drake, 27, a Chase employee, was killed in the explosion.

GreenHeart Companies of Boardman was working to relocate the building’s utility lines when the gas line was cut, according to city documents and officials.

The NTSB preliminarily has found the gas line in the basement being cut caused the explosion.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened two investigations of the explosion — one on GreenHeart and the other on Chase. The State Fire Marshal’s Office is also investigating the cause.

The damage was so extensive that the city closed the nearby Stambaugh Building, home of the DoubleTree by Hilton, the only hotel in Youngstown, as well as nearby streets.



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