Saturday, December 06, 2008
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Building starts to come down on South Sangamon

Questions arise if it had assistance

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[December 06, 2008]  Pink Floyd wasn't on the 200 block of South Sangamon Friday night singing, "Another brick in the wall," but for a time police and fire department personnel were wondering how many more were going to fall down.

The building, which the city considered as unfit for rehabilitation since this past July, has been quietly standing with a bulge in the brickwork for the better part of the year. The bulge was on the south side of the structure, bordering the parking lot of Alexander Lumber. The lot owned by Alexander Lumber had been cordoned off with sawhorses to prevent anyone from getting too close to the tenuous structure since this summer.

As feared, it gave way last night, but it might have been by the hand of man more than by physics. Witnesses said that just before 4 p.m. the outside support mortar was crumbling, the building was rumbling for a while, and then several bricks began falling from the wall into the parking lot.

Nearing 5 p.m. a section of the second-floor wall approximately 16 feet long by 8 feet high fell onto the lot.

According again to witnesses, a man with a sledgehammer in his hand was seen in the building at the spot the wall gave way.

An inspection by fire department personnel using a floodlight to look into the building for someone perhaps hurt yielded no results. It could not be confirmed who the person seen was and what they were doing in the building wielding a sledgehammer.

The building has been a source of concern ever since the city council debated action against the owner of the building, Mark Gates, in their early July council meeting. The structural integrity of the building was apparently compromised while it was under renovation, leading to the leaning brick wall (which as of last night is no longer leaning).

At the meeting in July, city code enforcement officer Les Last explained to council members that he had tried working with the owner. Gates said then that he had an architectural engineer working on the plans to fix the problem. Bates said that Gates had not met multiple start dates and had not shown up for scheduled meetings.

City aldermen agreed unanimously that it was time to take legal action for the demolition of the building at 217 S. Sangamon St. "It is a safety issue," city attorney Bill Bates said at the time.

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On the council's opinion, Bates was asked to go forward with litigation. Bates said that the process would begin with a title search to confirm ownership and to identify if any liens were held against the property. Next he would file a lawsuit for demolition. The city would incur all costs of the lawsuit and the demolition. When asked what the costs might be, Bates responded that he expected that Gates would fight the action and the city would have to hire an expert, such as a structural engineer, to prove that the building is dangerous and in need of demolition. He estimated that it would cost $10,000 to $15,000 in legal fees just to get to the demolition portion.

It can be surmised that the city will no longer need to hire an expert to deem the structure unsafe, with a fair portion of it resting in the lumberyard parking lot. As of Saturday morning, the wall below the opening is bowing, and it looks as though more of the building could fall on its own.

As of this report, further information on the possibility of an intruder being responsible for the damage and what further steps the city might take were not available.


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