Coaldale borough council on Thursday voted unanimously to take four simple steps to make the deteriorated Coaldale Complex safe for the children and staff who occupy a Carbon County Head Start program there more than two weeks after engineers urged immediate action.
Minutes after the vote to have borough workers place support scaffolding under two weakened roof arches to keep them stable and over exits to protect people from falling brick or stone, council by a 5-2 vote rejected a motion by Councilman Tom Keerans to put the massive, 87-year-old former high school, at Sixth and Phillips streets, up for sale. Keerans described the building as a money pit.
Councilman David Yelito supported the motion, but council members Steve Tentylo, Nancy Lorchak, Joe Hnat, Andrew Girard and President Sue Solt opposed selling the building.
The scaffolding to be loaned to the borough by Hnat was to be placed this morning and is a temporary fix as council seeks bids to reconnect loose bricks to areas above the exits. In addition to the scaffolding, workers will remove items stored on the second floor.
Permanent repairs to the interior and exterior of the building are estimated to cost about $590,000 and will be discussed by council at future meetings. The cost of the permanent repairs include $500,000 for second floor structural rehabilitation; $30,000 for metal coping on the parapet, and $60,000 for exterior brick and stone work.
Keerans moved to do the immediate fixes, which were urged by Alfred E. Benesch & Co. engineers, hired by the borough to inspect the building for safety. The inspection was done on July 27.
Senior project manager James D. Pudleiner, who attended the special meeting with project engineer Gregory J. Kuklinski, was shocked that council failed to immediately take the safety measures, which were listed in an Sept. 14 letter to the borough.
"It's been how many weeks since we put this report out, and nothing has been done," Pudleiner said. "Frankly, I'm shocked that we came up here and that stuff wasn't shored. It doesn't cost that much to do and it's something that can be done in one day."
The engineering firm, not just the borough, could also be held liable for injuries, he said. "We stuck our neck out by having this thing go two weeks with nothing being done. What we're asking, we felt is not that much to make it safe."
Pudleiner said the work should only take a couple of hours.
"It's not rocket science," he said. "It's not a lot of money."
Solt told her colleagues to make phone calls immediately after the meeting to get workers ready.
Carbon County Head Start program director Bernetta Frantz said children would not be attending the Coaldale center today.
Kuklinski, who performed the inspection, said that although the second floor is in bad shape due to years of water damage from a leaky roof, the building is safe provided the four immediate safety steps are taken.
"The building is not going to fall down," he said.
A new roof was put on the building in 2002 to stop the water damage.
After Kuklinski walked council through his 54-page report, council members discussed the cost of the needed repairs and who was responsible for them.
The borough owns the building, but it is operated by the Coaldale Complex Committee. Yelito asked who is responsible for the repairs and maintenance of the building.
"It's your building," Greek said.
The committee manages the money that comes from the Head Start rental, games and other activities. It does not share details of its accounting with the borough. Lorchak said that some time ago, the committee gave council a list of expenses, but not revenue.
Committee members Harold Watkins and Dave Hnat attended the meeting, and said the lack of money prevented them from doing maintenance and repairs. They don't even have sufficient funds, Watkins said, to pour concrete into a former coal bin entrance that may pose a danger to children who use the playground at the school. Under questioning from Girard, Watkins said an exposed junction box in the gymnasium would be covered.
Girard and others suggested grant money could be found to make the repairs.
Lorchak also questioned how Head Start, a federal program, could have gotten a grant to refurbish the first floor of the building to accommodate a new program when the second floor was in such bad shape.
Yelito wanted to know why the Head Start rent was so low. Watkins said it was $2,300 a month. That prompted Hnat to ask Yelito what his motive was. Mayor Richard Corkery said the motive was safety.
Tentylo suggested that Yelito, who with Corkery has been vocal about safety problems at the building, wants to raze the former high school for a parking lot. Yelito denied the suggestion.
Greek urged council to meet with the committee to forge a maintenance agreement.