PDT Staff Writer
Several years ago, the officials of American Savings Bank changed the facade of their building, removing the unsightly metal front and replacing it with a stone design which reflected early Portsmouth. It was one of the ways they wanted to increase the value of not only their building, but that area of downtown Portsmouth.
Now, their neighbor has neglected their building, not making necessary repairs, boarding up windows, and taking away from the value of the neighborhood. The problem is, that building adjacent to ASB is the Marting’s Fifth Street building, and it is owned by the city of Portsmouth. What’s worse, is that bricks from that building have, for several years, been falling on the roofs of properties owned by ASB.
“It was on Feb. 12, of 2010, there were people and customers in Morgan Brothers Jewelers (a building owned by ASB), and they heard a loud thump, and went outside, and there were bricks that had fallen off of the Marting’s Fifth Street building onto the roof of our building,” Mike Gampp, President of American Savings Bank, said. “The bricks caused damage to our rubber roof. They put a hole in our roof.”
Gampp said, for safety purposes and to make sure no moisture intruded into the structure of the company’s property, he called their contractor to come and patch the hole in a roof that had been perfectly seamless, and had no damage prior to the bricks falling.
“Then I contacted the city about what had happened,” Gampp said. “I sent a letter to the mayor, the solicitor, and the auditor, along with an invoice for our repair, asking two things - one, to be reimbursed for the repair that we did, and I also asked to have an evaluation done to our roof to see if there were any other long term issues it may have caused, to make sure that we were made whole.”
Gampp said the city’s response was that because they are a government, Ohio law provides that ASB’s insurance is responsible for any damage caused by the debris from the government-owned building.
“I checked with that, and believe it or not, that, in fact, is true,” Gampp said. “They would pay any deductible that we have, but our insurance would be responsible for paying. But, if we didn’t have any insurance, they (city) would be responsible for all the damages.”
The concern over safety and future property still remains.
“We feel we keep our property up, and we want to be good stewards of our property and good members of the community, and provide safe places for our people to work, as well as for businesses that rent from us,” Gampp said. “So we want to make sure that we don’t have damage caused to our structure, and we want to be appropriately compensated if something does happen. But, beyond that, our concern was then, and still is, we don’t want to risk the safety or health of anyone, and our concern is, that as bricks start falling out of that building, we don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”
Gampp said many of the bricks have fallen into an adjacent alley.
“Yes I know it’s a once in a million chance that someone could be walking down the alley and a brick could fall and hit them in the head, but it is there. It could even hit them in a car,” Gampp said. “A lot of things could happen. But I think there is, at least, a reasonable amount of risk that we are assuming by the lack of repair.”
Has the city followed up since the original incident?
“They have not,” Gampp said.
Gampp said there is a potential risk to employees and customers, as well as passers-by.
“I’m not a structural engineer, but I did play with dominoes when I was a child, and I can look up, and when I see the top third of a brick wall that has no mortar between the bricks — and it doesn’t take a far stretch of my imagination to see that at least a third of that wall, once chunks start going, they will all start coming,” Gampp said. “These aren’t small bricks like you do houses with sometimes, with holes in them. These are pavers, like they used to pave the streets with, solid through and through.”
The city purchased the building in May of 2002, and has done nothing with the building, allowing it to fall into deep disrepair. Gampp said some upper glass windows fell from the building, and those windows were boarded up, leaving it not only dangerous, but unsightly.
Twice, Portsmouth City Council has asked voters to approve the city’s use of the building for city offices, and twice, the voters have said no. Still, the building always comes up in any conversation as to what the city should do to get out of their current building, another facility that has fallen into disrepair. The latest building search committee recommended tearing the building down and asking the Marting’s Foundation, which sold the city the building, to pay for the demolition. That is a scenario that is highly unlikely.
Meanwhile, the city remains in a building on property considered by some as the most valuable piece of property in downtown Portsmouth with no solid plans for where they will house government offices in the future. All the while, bricks continue to fall from the Marting’s Fifth Street building, a brick at a time, with still no remedy in sight.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at email@example.com.