Scaffolding installed outside New Haven building after bricks fall on sidewalk

NEW HAVEN – City construction manager Jim Turcio couldn’t help but be shocked – and personally moved – when he saw images of Surfside, Florida, a collapsing condominium complex in the middle of the night.

“It took a heavy toll on me,” said Turcio, who, like building officials and inspectors across the country, spends his days and nights working to prevent such disasters under his watch.

Tuesday, the 13th day of search for survivors and bodies, the June 24 collapse of the Champlain South Towers officially killed 32 people. 113 other people are still missing.

“I hope that never will happen here,” said Turcio.

But while Turcio doesn’t think there are any inhabited buildings in New Haven where this sort of thing could happen, he keeps a close watch on several empty buildings in the city, including one where bricks recently fell on the sidewalk.

His biggest concern locally are several run-down buildings that are already vacant.

Turcio said his main concerns are three buildings that have not been condemned but are closely watched by him and his staff:

– The long-vacant former New Haven Clock Co. factory in 133 Hamilton Street, part of which once housed Scores, a strip club.

– A vacant industrial building, recently housing the Peter Chapman Personal Training Center and formerly the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop, in 433, rue de la Chapelle between Hamilton and Wallace streets.

– The old Bigelow Boiler Co. building at 198 River St. in Fair Haven, a city-owned site.

On Friday, a team of structural restoration contractors from GL Capasso were working at 433 Chapel Street to install scaffolding for a “sidewalk shed” to protect anyone passing by after the city received reports of falling bricks, Turcio said.

During a site visit on Friday, he pointed to two areas dug along the top of the six-story building from which bricks had already fallen.

“I’m there four days a week,” Turcio said. “I pass every day.

“You might see more of these hangars across town” in the future, Turcio said. “If we see a problem, we’ll act on it. “

The owner of 433 Chapel, La Saraghina LLC, for whom state lists Peter Chapman, as agent, could not immediately be reached for comment.

A $ 4 million loan for brownfield development is in place to help the city clean up the site of the former 1.9-acre watch factory, which Oregon-based developer Reed Realty Group is looking to convert into Clock Shop Lofts, an apartment complex of 128 units with ancillary uses for design professionals such as gallery / exhibition space and restaurant / cafe.

Economic development administrator Michael Piscitelli said the project had been “slowed down by the pandemic”.

“They still have remediation work to complete … but they have not finalized their funding,” he said.

But in the meantime, the city must be concerned about the current state of the site, Piscitelli said.

Reed Realty Group and its managing partner, Scott Reed, did not immediately return messages left last weekend and Tuesday.

An October 7, 2020 inspection at 133 Hamilton Street found the structure to be open to intrusion with a collapsed brick wall and back fence as well as at least 20 abandoned barrels of leaking oil, threatening safety and well- be public, according to a “Notice Of Unsafe Structure” published on October 9, 2020 and reissued on July 2, 2021.

Dangerous structure notice at 133 Hamilton Street (open to trespassing) reissued July 2, 2021 through Helene Bennett on Scribd

A June 29, 2021 inspection at 433 Chapel Street found “bricks are falling on the sidewalk” and “the facade needs to be repaired and restored to a safe condition,” according to a “dangerous structure notice” published on June 30, 2021.

433, rue Chapel Dangerous structure notice July 2, 2021 through Helene Bennett on Scribd

In New Haven, if there is any sign of serious problems, “We are going to act,” Turcio said. “If we receive a report from engineers indicating that the building is sinking, we will take serious action. “

But is Turcio worried that there are other things the officials should be doing here?

“All the time,” he said.

“I should take a serious look at all the buildings,” Turcio said.

When something like what happened in Surfside happens anywhere, “You immediately want to double-check and triple-check that the city is doing everything to make sure something like this doesn’t happen,” said said Mayor Justin Elicker.

“It reminds you why it’s important to follow building codes and have building permits and an inspection,” he said.

In New Haven, “We regularly monitor the buildings of concern to us. We have a plan for each of them, ”and“ we intervene quickly to make sure they’re ”in good shape, Elicker said.

Having said that, “I have great confidence in our home inspector. I’ve seen him “and he’s” by the book and conservative on public safety, “Elicker said.” But as a mayor, I worry about just about everything. “

Several other buildings that have been of concern in the city are not of the same level of concern as the three properties on the watch list, Turcio said.

A wooden building on Whalley Avenue that was demolished earlier last week “was more run down and a trespassing hazard,” but was not at risk of collapsing, Turcio said.

A 163-year-old, partially collapsed, pre-Civil War multi-family home in Wooster Square “is structurally stable now, under the supervision of an engineer,” Turcio said.

The structural problems with 66 Norton St., which the city condemned and evacuated from about 80 residents in February 2018, have been resolved and it is almost ready for people to return there, Turcio said.

“The structural issues have been completely resolved” and “we are working on the rear fire escape,” he said.

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