Four days before an Iowa apartment building collapsed, an engineering firm warned that it appeared at risk of crumbling.
A letter dated May 24 from Select Structural Engineering said 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 did not 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, Iowa, partially collapsed over the weekend, and three people are still unaccounted for, police said Thursday.
They were identified as: Branden Colvin, Ryan Hitchcock and 60-year-old Daniel Prien.
Earlier this week police said five were unaccounted for, but two of those people have been located: one moved out a month ago and was in Texas and another was in Davenport.
Davenport Police Chief Jeffery Bladel said there’s a “high probability” the three missing individuals were home when a portion of the building caved in and are in “that collapsed space.”
“All the information provided to us is that space is not sustainable to life,” he added.
Davenport 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.”
Documents reveal city interacted with building, owner over 100 times in past 3 years
The city released a cache of documents and permits Wednesday evening showing a history of tenant complaints and issues plaguing 324 Main Street.
When asked by reporters during a Thursday news conference on 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 May report from an engineering firm hired by the property owner that deemed the structure safe.
Here are most damning revelations in the released documents:
- There were a total of 145 interactions between the city and the property and owner Andrew Wold from 2020 to 2023
- Those interactions included inspections and documented tenant complaints that spanned water coming through ceilings, faulty plumbing, no heat for months, overflowing garbage and worsening cracks in walls.
- There were five “notice to vacate letters” issued to different apartment units between 2020 to 2023 due to “substandard conditions” and after multiple inspections found issues hadn’t been fixed.
- A letter from Fire Marshal Jim Morris dated March 13 said an inspection 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 due to 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 “part of the south-west wall has been gradually failing” and “There is visible crumbling of this exterior load bearing wall under the support beam.” It also said that exterior brick veneer has separated which allowed rain and ice to build up and cause “further damage.” It said “emergency vacate orders will be posted on the building if the failing masonry area is not secured per this letter.”
Property owner cited
A 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 that the citation was filed to prevent Wold from transferring the property to avoid the demolition order.
A court date is set for June 9.
Since the collapse, there’s been outrage and frustration with the city’s handling of the building and collapse aftermath.
Former and recent tenants of the historic Iowa apartment building said they had complained to management for years about cracks in the walls, a lack of heat and air conditioning, and plumbing woes — but were consistently ignored.
When asked Thursday if the city should have vacated the building to prevent such a disaster, Mayor Mike Matson simply said: “I have the same anger and concern.”
Wold purchased the historic property in June 2021. He issued his first public comment since the Sunday collapse on Tuesday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants and families during this difficult time,” a statement signed by Andrew Wold and the Village Property Management team said.
“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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