Days before Iowa building collapsed, engineers warned it could crumble

Four days before part of an Iowa apartment building collapsed, an engineering firm warned that it appeared at risk of crumbling. Select Structural Engineering said in a letter dated May 24 that large patches of brick “appear ready to fall imminently” and laid out repair recommendations “to keep the entire face of the building from falling away when the bottoms area(s) come loose.” The engineers also warned that “the brick façade is unlikely to be preserved in place, but it can be brought down in a safe, controlled manner.” City officials said Thursday that they didn’t order residents to vacate because they relied on the engineering team’s assurances that the building was safe.The 116-year-old building in Davenport partly collapsed over the weekend, and three people are still unaccounted for, police said Thursday. They were identified as Branden Colvin, Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prien, 60. Police said this week that five people were unaccounted for, but two of them have been located: One moved out a month ago and was in Texas, and the other was in Davenport. Davenport Police Chief Jeffery Bladel said that there is a “high probability” the three missing people were home when part of the building caved in and that they are in “that collapsed space.””All the information provided to us is that space is not sustainable to life,” he said. Mayor Mike Matson said there’s no timeline for demolition as officials work with experts to find a way to safely demolish the building while acknowledging it as a “resting place.”Police continued to secure a six-story apartment building in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday.Scott Olson / Getty ImagesRyan Shaffer, who co-owns RA Masonry, said he repeatedly warned construction workers at that building, as well as the building’s owner, about the dangers there.RA Masonry put in a bid to do work at the building, and it was rejected, Shaffer said, but he kept up with the project.He said he warned workers there Saturday, a day before it fully collapsed, after he saw that interior layers of bricks — not just outer bricks — had been falling.“That’s the main structure of the building. If that falls, it’s going,” Shaffer said. “So Saturday is when I addressed the workers — I said, ‘You need to leave. It’s going to fall.’”Documents reveal city interacted with building and owner over 100 times in past 3 yearsThe city released a cache of documents and permits Wednesday evening showing a history of tenant complaints and issues plaguing 324 Main St. Asked by reporters at a news conference Thursday why the building wasn’t shut down despite myriad problems, city officials said that the collapse is “a new thing for our city” and that they trusted a report in May from an engineering firm hired by the property owner, which deemed the structure safe.Here are most damning revelations in the released documents:There were 145 interactions between the city and the property and its owner, Andrew Wold, from 2020 to 2023.The interactions included inspections and documented tenant complaints from water coming through ceilings to faulty plumbing to no heat for months to overflowing garbage to worsening cracks in walls.Five “notice to vacate letters” were issued to different apartment units from 2020 to 2023 because of “substandard conditions” and after multiple inspections found issues hadn’t been fixed. Fire Marshal Jim Morris said in a letter dated March 13 that an inspection had found several fire hazard issues, including faulty emergency lights, fire doors that didn’t function properly and outdated smoke detectors. The letter said, “The lack of responsiveness with this property is unacceptable.”There were also multiple notices that city code inspectors were unable to access the building.The building was declared a nuisance in May 2022 because of several solid waste violations. Wold was ordered to pay a $4,500 penalty after he failed to appear in court, The Associated Press reported. A city notice dated Feb. 2 said a field inspection showed issues that needed immediate attention. It said that “part of the south-west wall has been gradually failing,” adding, “There is visible crumbling of this exterior load bearing wall under the support beam.” It also said exterior brick veneer had separated, which allowed rain and ice to build up and cause “further damage.” It said that “emergency vacate orders will be posted on the building if the failing masonry area is not secured per this letter.” Clothing hangs in an apartment of the building that partly collapsed.Erin Hooley / APProperty owner citedA citation was filed against Wold on Tuesday in Scott County Court for failing to maintain the building in a safe and sanitary condition. The city asked for a $300 fine plus court fees.“The city of Davenport requests that the Court order the defendant from committing any further violations of the city code provisions,” the citation said. City Attorney Tom Warner said the citation was filed to prevent Wold from transferring the property to avoid the demolition order. A court date is set for June 9.There have been outrage and frustration with the city’s handling of the building and the aftermath of the collapse. Former and recent tenants of the historic apartment building said they had complained to management for years about cracks in the walls, plumbing woes and a lack of heat and air conditioning — but were consistently ignored.Asked Thursday whether the city should have vacated the building to prevent such a disaster, Matson, the mayor, simply said: “I have the same anger and concern.”Wold, who bought the property in June 2021, issued his first public comment since the collapse Tuesday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants and families during this difficult time,” said a statement signed by Wold and the Village Property Management team.“We have been working closely with the American Red Cross and other agencies to assist the displaced tenants affected by this event. We are forever grateful to them for all of their assistance with our tenants,” the brief statement said. 

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