Thursday, September 24, 2009

Facade Falls on Newark Avenue Follow Up

What if the façade of a building fell on a major thoroughfare in Jersey City and nobody was there to see it happen?

Please go to here for the original posting. Façade Falls on Newark Avenue

I saw this scene late afternoon/early evening of September 11. The large tiles on the façade of 139 Newark Avenue, an uninhabited building, feel to the street. The mess was cleaned up, but the building was re-designated as hazardous for the fire department, meaning that in case of fire, fire department personnel are not to enter the building to fight the fire. If you pass by this building, that is what the spray painted X insignia means—in case of fire, the building is not to be entered. You see this marking on buildings in New Orleans post-Katrina.

I waited that weekend to see if there would be any coverage of this incident by the local press. That Monday, I posted the pictures I took, and contacted members of the local media by phone and email. They listened and showed some interest but as of now, a story was not pursued. I’m not here to criticize them or their editorial choices. My day job is in trade magazine publishing, I am well aware of all the factors involved in making a decision about what and what not to cover, I don’t have the hubris to say I’m right and they’re wrong. The recession is hitting this already struggling industry quite hard, budget and staff cuts galore. Every business quarter it seems, every publication has to figure out a new way to stay in business. I'm not questioning why this story has not been covered, all I am saying is, I tried.

Anyway, it appears these Dislocations photographs are the exclusive pictures of this incident. Personally, I see the size of those tiles, and the mess on the sidewalk, and I think people should be informed about it, some sort of investigation of the causes of this incident under-taken. Thank God, nobody was struck by one of these pieces. This looks life threatening to me. Something should be done to alert our citizenry beyond this silly, under-read, internet blog. But, that’s just me.

I consider this mainly an entertaining blog, and one not only about Jersey City. I wander around town and take pictures and think of clever (some of them, anyway) observations. In my wanderings I stumbled across an actual news event, one that no one else saw or cares about. But I could not stand silently by and not find out more. So, I am reporting on what I found out, my experiences finding it out, and clarifying some points in the original post.

Basically, I had three questions:

Why did the façade fell?

What was done to make sure it doesn’t fall again?

Why was the building re-designated and does this re-designation have anything to do with questions 1 or 2?

The only report on this incident is from the Fire Department. If you go to the Fire Department headquarters and Marin Blvd—which I did— you can get this report.

Ask for Incident Report: 15793

The report states that fire department received an alarm at 12:55:10, arrived on the scene at 13: 07: 42 (military time, i.e., seven after one in the afternoon) and left the scene at 13:33:11. (some of the people I spoke with said it happened about two, which is why in the original post it states 12:30-2:00pm).

The report states: “L-2 responded to a 139 Newark Ave. for a dangerous condition to find J.C.P.D. on the scene and they reported that facade had fallen off the building. Police had already called the building department and had secured the scene. L-2 return to Service.”

As far as I can tell, the statement “facade had fallen off the building” and the Dislocation photographs are the only public record of this incident.

The Police did not file a report because the law only requires them to do so if there was a crime committed, or an investigation implemented. They do not have to keep a record of a call to the Building Department. It was the Building Department, not the Fire Department or the Police Department that made the decision to re-designate the building—the Big Red X.

I talked to a Building Department individual both on the phone and in person. The Building Department is located on 30 Montgomery Street. The office was filled with about two dozen people applying for Building Permits. Although an abrasive individual, which probably comes with the territory, I mean, dealing with construction companies and developers would not seem to encourage one to be overly genteel, the guy did answer a few of my questions. The problem was on my end: I do not have the expertise to ask all the proper questions, or the time to both get the expertise and find the proper channels for a proper interview with the Building Department representatives. I do not know what sort of documentation the Building Department has available, how to obtain those records, or I likely lack some expertise to fully understand them.

Personally, I think that’s a job for a city journalist, not a blogger who is doing this in his free time and intends it to be mainly amusing. However, I did see the façade on the sidewalk and I had to do something.

The Building Department did not keep a report of receiving the phone call from the police, or the actions they took in response to the phone call. I do not know what sort of records the Building Department keeps. I could not get a straight answer. I am not blaming the gentleman I spoke with; he did not have the time nor the inclination to hold the hand of a complete novice and walked him through the regulations and record keeping of the Building Department. I lacked expertise and he didn’t have the time to give me that expertise. And, I don’t blame him.

Why did the façade fell?

“Because it was loose.” Now this is an obvious answer, and he wasn’t being flippant in giving it to me. I would like to know why was it loose, and when it was last inspected—one would think the purpose of inspections is to prevent pieces of a structure from becoming suddenly loose.

What was done to make sure it doesn’t fall again?

This I got an answer on. All the tiles were removed from the façade. I feel my main responsibility has been fulfilled. The tiles were the hazard and by removing them the immediate danger has been resolved. Where you see the tarp is where the tiles had been removed. I can’t look under the tarp to see if the tiles had indeed been removed, but I see no reason why I shouldn’t take the Building Department’s word on this.

Why was the building re-designated and does this re-designation have anything to do with questions 1 or 2?

On the night in question, I was informed by the Building Department, that there was something internally in the building that the department had asked the contractor to fix. The repair had not been done, so the Building Department re-designated the building. The repair had nothing to do with the falling façade.

According to the Building Department, the internal portion of the building in need of repair was noted during an inspection of 139 Newark Avenue after a fire had damaged the now demolished adjacent 141 Newark Avenue. That fire took place November 29 2007.

I do not have a report on when the initial inspection took place, how the façade was inspected at that time, and if indeed the last inspection of the building was two years ago, and why there wasn’t any follow up in the past 24 months on their compliance with Building Department recommendations (if indeed recommendations is the right word).

I am not stating or implying the Building Department is somehow at fault, or did not fulfill their obligations under current statutes. I do not know those statutes and I do not have the expertise to research them. The gentlemen I spoke with said that if I want more information, to speak with the contractor. I do not have the contractor’s name, and I do not want interview the contractor. I do not want to “cover” Jersey City Construction News especially for free.

I do know this, when I arrived on the scene that Friday—keep in mind, this was about six, and they worked well into the night and the façade fell at 12:30. The falling façade aftermath required about eight hours or work to rectify. The men in the cherry picker were not Building Department personnel, they were workers for the Contractor. I asked a gentlemen what happened, in fact, the first I person I asked. He said nothing, they are taking off the façade. I said it looks like it fell. He said, no, nothing fell. He was not a friendly person. I asked about a half-dozen people, including shop owners whom I know and know they are in the vicinity and they confirmed that the façade did fall. The Fire Department report clearly states: facade had fallen off the building. This individual I spoke with I later saw speaking with these cherry picker workers. He sure looked like he was telling them what to do.

So, that I believe is the end of my involvement with the Façade Falling On Newark Avenue story. I guess you never know what you’ll see when you walk around Jersey City. Let’s keep in mind—139 Newark Avenue, façade fell and is abandoned; 141 Newark Avenue had a fire and has been demolished; 143 Newark Avenue is also an abandoned building, uninhabited and fallow. I am sure at some point, when financing and plans are finalized, a wonderful new life enhancing structure will be built on these lots—the buildings remaining look too far gone to rehabilitate, but hey I’m not an expert. My concern is the safety of people walking near these three addresses. The façade on 139 has been moved, and that is what initiated my concern.

On September 14, Randolph Condi a former Jersey City building inspector was sentenced in federal court to 13 months in prison for taking bribes. According to the newspaper, “Condi admitted taking the bribes between July 2008 and January 2009 in connection to projects by a contractor who turned out to be a government informant”…


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  5. This story is'nt over yet....we await the latest developements.

  6. I used to live on Newark ave at Newark and Montgomery. An attorney owns the building and operates his business there. The building shook every time a bus or large truck passed by. I believe it had endured a fire previously. There is additional bracing in the basement that is not of original age of the building. I was always concerned the building might fall down one day. The floors in the apartments currently sag a minimum of 12 inches between the exterior walls. I had to prop up all of my furniture on blocks. You could place a ball on one end of the apartment and watch it roll freely to the other end. I had awful drafts from the windows because they were mis-shaped and damaged as a result of the building settling. However, you cannot see this on the exterior of the building as the frames have been covered with metal to look normal shaped. Where is the building department? I personally thought I had no chance against a well connected attorney and left when I could. Many buildings in JC are like this. Why?