Youngstown considers firm to study Realty Tower’s safety

YOUNGSTOWN — The city board of control agenda for today’s meeting includes a vote on hiring a structural engineer to help determine how safe the public is around Realty Tower after a deadly explosion at the downtown building, but that decision may be postponed.

Law Director Lori Shells Simmons, one of three board members, said her staff was still working as of late Wednesday on the contract language of the $7,500 contract with Barber & Hoffman Consulting Engineers.

“It’s not ready yet,” she said Wednesday. “We’re hopeful it will be ready. As lawyers, we’re sticklers. We just want the contract language to be correct.”

Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works, said he’d discuss the Barber & Hoffman contract after today’s meeting.

The firm, with offices in Cleveland, Columbus and Cranberry, Pa., has done work in Youngstown.

Desmone Architects, a Pittsburgh company helping the city with work at 20 Federal Place, hired Barber & Hoffman to handle structural engineering for a $7.5 million remediation and partial demolition project at that downtown building.

Barber & Hoffman was the engineer for the $27 million renovation and expansion project in 2022 at the main branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Shasho said a firm — identified Wednesday as Barber & Hoffman — was going to be hired today as “a third, independent party” that will look at Realty to determine if “the general public is going to be safe.”

The board of control item states Barber & Hoffman is being hired to provide “miscellaneous structural engineering services related” to Realty.

However, because of the damage done by the May 28 explosion and concerns about its structural soundness, no one is permitted inside Realty Tower.

“You can’t get access to anything,” Shasho said Tuesday. “It’s not even safe to enter the building. It’s not the easiest task to do.”

YO Properties 47 LLC, which owns Realty, hired a structural engineer to determine if the building is in danger of collapsing, Shasho said.

Shasho said Tuesday: “We’re not here to determine, hey, can the building be saved, what repairs are needed, that type of thing. The owner needs to do that.”

Barber & Hoffman will help the city decide if the nearby Stambaugh Building and / or certain streets — in the zone where debris or a potential collapse of Realty could occur — should remain closed, Shasho said.

City council met Wednesday for the first time since the deadly May 28 explosion.

Because city hall remains closed for council meetings as a result of structural problems with the building’s fire escape, council met at the Mahoning County commissioners’ hearing room in the basement of the county courthouse, close to Realty Tower.

“It’s been a hard week for all of us,” said Councilwoman Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward.

She added about how the city responded to the incident, “That’s the way to support a community and to not let anything stop us from moving forward.”

Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, who lived in Realty Tower for nearly seven years, said: “I’m way too emotionally attached to that building” and the residents. “When it happened, it hit me so hard and it’s still hitting me hard now to the point where I’m not sleeping.”

Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th Ward, said it is also important to remember the downtown businesses that have been impacted by the explosion and to support them.

Six minutes after a gas line at Realty Tower, 47 E. Federal St., was cut for the third time on May 28, an explosion occurred, heavily damaging the building, including the Chase Bank branch on the first floor. Akil Drake, a 27-year-old 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 National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the Realty investigation, has preliminarily found that 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 “inspections” of the explosion: one on GreenHeart and the other on Chase.

The Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office is also investigating the cause.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today