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City wants International Towers evacuation to be quick

YOUNGSTOWN — On the recommendation of the structural engineer hired by the city to evaluate the damaged 12-floor Realty Tower, the 16-story International Towers building next door needs to be evacuated by about Thursday, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said at a press conference Tuesday morning at the Covelli Centre’s Community Room.

The Stambaugh Building, on the other side of East Federal Street from the Realty Tower, which houses the DoubleTree Hotel, also must remain closed, Brown said. That decision is based on the advice of Barber & Hoffman Consulting Engineers, a firm the city hired to inspect the Realty Tower. The firm recommended that the city close everything within a 210-foot radius of the Realty Tower because it could collapse.

The Stambaugh Building and the Realty Tower have been closed since the May 28 explosion that destroyed the lower floors of the Realty Tower. The explosion killed one JP Morgan Chase bank employee and injured six others, most of whom were rescued from the first floor and basement.

Brown said people may ask why the city allowed the residents of the International Towers to return to the building after the explosion but are now removing them again.

“We didn’t have a structural engineer report that said so,” the mayor said. “At that time, we didn’t have the sound understanding or sound information to deal with that. And by all accounts, that was the best scenario at that time. But I have that report. I cannot in any way, shape or form ignore it. So we will continue with the evacuation of those residents.”

The mayor said moving the residents out “is gonna hurt. It’s not going to be easy for any of us. Did we want to do this? No, but now that we know about it, we have to do something.”

The report states that “It is B&H’s opinion the (Realty) building is in a dangerous condition” as defined by the Ohio Existing Building Code, “and the building is in imminent danger of collapse without modification to replace” the parts of the floor that collapsed.

Brown said he is impressed with the property managers at the International Towers and the good conversation city officials had with them Tuesday about evacuation.

The Stambaugh Building, the Realty Tower and the International Towers are the only buildings in the 210-foot “collapse zone,” and therefore the only ones that must remain empty, according to the engineering report from Barber & Hoffman.

Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works, said Barber & Hoffman did its “independent analysis” starting Friday and provided its report to city officials “mid-day on Monday, and basically what the report says is there is a danger of imminent collapse of the building.”

He said that is mostly because the collapse of the first floor removed support for three main exterior columns on the north side of the building facade.

Shasho said it “makes the columns suspect for collapse. That’s not to say the building can’t be temporarily stabilized, but that’s something we are demanding from the owner very soon.” The collapse zone is “approximately 1 1/2 times the building height, which is 140 feet,” according to the report.

The mayor said the city has “taken an active role” to determine how safe the Realty Tower is “because of the public safety and the public welfare of the residents of Youngstown, Ohio.”

Brown said city officials expected to hear back Tuesday afternoon from the owners of the Realty Tower “and / or their insurance company with an action of what to do in the building. The onus will be on them.”

HELPING EVACUEES

Much of the press conference focused on information about what the community will do to help the 170 residents of the International Towers find somewhere to live if they need that help.

Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, said the United Way is serving as “convener” of the resources the International Towers residents will need. Many are older, and many have physical or other disabilities, he said.

The next stop after the press conference was going to be a meeting at the International Towers to get a better idea of how many people will need assistance with housing when they leave, he said.

Some suggestions on where to house people who need it are the Covelli Centre and Youngstown State University dorm rooms, he said.

Tuesday afternoon, YSU President Bill Johnson released a statement in response to the mayor’s remarks.

“In response to the explosion downtown on May 28, Youngstown State University is actively working with Youngstown city officials to determine how we may best provide support. We remain committed to understanding the needs of our community, and we stand ready to assist during this time of unfortunate upheaval for so many of our friends.

“We extend a heartfelt thank you to United Way and all local agencies who are assisting during this time, and for their continued collaboration with YSU. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all individuals, families and friends who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy,” Johnson said.

The Barber & Hoffman report states that the International Towers and Stambaugh Building should remain off limits to people until the Realty Tower “is demolished or made safe by temporary bracing at the ground floor.” Additionally, the report suggests that metal panels not securely attached to the Realty Tower be removed.

The report adds, that “It is B&H’s understanding that the building owner (and their structural engineer) will determine the required remediations to eliminate the dangerous condition.”

When the mayor was asked why the evacuation of the International Towers is not more urgent in light of the Realty Tower being “in imminent danger of collapse,” he responded, “Realistically you’ve got to figure out how to do that, and we’re not saying it’s imminent. We gave a time frame on that. So that’s why we gave 72 hours to get out there in a realistic amount of time. We could have said 24 hours, but that probably would have been unrealistic, looking at the medical issues that are there.”

Brown said there were “multiple calls” Monday between the city and the owner of the building and others associated with it. “We brought them together, insurance companies, adjusters, engineers from all involved, and we gave a report, and at the end of the day, they asked for some time to talk about it, talk it over among themselves.”

He said the city talked to them late Monday and planned to do so again Tuesday. “We expect something, action from the owner or their insurance company,” Brown said.

He noted that business people and insurance companies “are looking at their bottom line. My bottom line are the residents and tenants in that building and the public safety of this community,” Brown said.

“So today we are going to expect more answers and more information from them as to how they make that building safe for my community,” he added..

Shasho said the city expects “a plan of action for either temporary stabilization (of the Realty Tower) or a schedule, either a decision on whether the building is going to come down or not based upon this very initial report,” he said.

The mayor added, “They won’t be allowed to just let that building sit and hem-hawing around about what to do with it.” He said there are “residents displaced and a hotel that is losing dollars and cents. All of those entities were part of that conversation, and they all were asking those very same questions.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Ed Runyan by email at erunyan@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.

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