Agency suggests closure of Roosevelt Mission over safety concerns

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fears the Roosevelt Mission in Linton could pose a significant danger of electrical fires or gas explosions has led one Indiana agency to suggest closing the shelter.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHDCA) deemed Roosevelt Mission unsafe in late May, urging residents to find emergency housing elsewhere.

Among the problems cited: Widespread electrical wiring which was not up to code and gas leaks, both rife with potential for fires, inspectors said.

The IHDCA recommendation echoed concerns expressed by Energy Conservation Solutions, Inc., which called the former hotel's condition "a prescription for certain tragedy."

Now, local officials believe the problems have been referred to the Indiana State Fire Marshal who will inspect the property and determine whether it is up to code.

"Since the city has no building ordinance in regard to the fire code, when somebody gives us a complaint we forward it to the state fire marshal," Linton Fire Chief Gary Tannehill said. "There are all these concerns, and I'm sure the state fire marshal is looking into the problem and there will be some things they have to have fixed."

Tannehill noted firefighters have made about two emergency runs to the building in the past year. In both instances, firefighters responded to a smoky smell or a sounding fire alarm. However, the root cause of those concerns was not immediately evident.

"We haven't been down there in a while," he said. The last recorded run was in December.

Tannehill couldn't speak to the specifics of the report, noting he hasn't read it. However, Linton Mayor Patti Jones ordered gas service turned off in July after receiving a 40-page report from state agencies suggesting the building was a health hazard with multiple gas leaks.

"What would you have done?" Jones said. "What else could I do?"

After an emergency inspection by city employees cleared up some of those concerns, gas service was restored.

The mission's director, Jerry French, said the problems are overstated and the report is misleading.

After passing several inspections, French was informed in February an inspector smelled a gas leak. Checking the property, inspectors found only one -- a valve that needed greased on the facility's stove.

"It just needed to be greased," French said. "I didn't even know valves needed to be greased."

French has criticized ECS inspectors as misrepresenting the mission's condition. However, he understood why Jones shut off the utilities for two hours.

"It's nothing disparaging toward her. She did what she thought was for the good of the city," he said. "(Inspectors) commented on a lot of things, but they were all pretty much false."

However, the 40-page report delivered to Jones and French depicts around 100 photos of conditions the inspectors found unacceptable in the former hotel, converted to emergency transitional housing for those in need, a quarter-century ago.

Among problems listed by ECS inspectors:

* "Multiple electrical violations: So many we stopped taking pictures."

* "Unsafe electrical distribution from the connection at the pole to the outlets in the walls. This structure is compromised electrically and has a high potential for an electrical fire."

* ECS recommends the entire electrical system be replaced. The system, a 1940s knob and tube system, has been heavily modified and does not meet state fire codes.

* All rooms in the facility had electric baseboard heat, but many units were incorrectly wired, ECS investigators found.

* Clothes dryer exhaust vents were clogged in both laundry areas, with lint build-up considered a potential fire hazard.

* All bath fans in the facility exhibited no evidence of being piped to the outdoors, and needed cleaning.

* The mission's fire escape had not been weight tested in five years. Access to the fire escape on the second floor isn't possible without going through a resident's room.

* The north fire escape's welds which attach the fire escape to the building have been compromised due to rust, according to inspectors. Masonry anchors are all that holds the fire escape to the building.

"This is clearly a major concern for the fire escape and for people walking below on the sidewalk," ECS inspectors suggest.

French disagrees, stating the fire escape is held in place by a steel crossbar, and suggests the inspectors misrepresented the extent the 110-year-old former hotel has problems.

He termed inspectors "four guys with flashlights and no instruments."

French is opposed to relocating the mission, stating that 60 percent of its revenue comes from the building's 11 apartments. No other suitable property exists locally, he suggested.

That money's even more precious to the mission in the aftermath of the report, which cut state and federal funds of around $27,000 annually.

The facility's roof also has a compromised membrane which appears to be around 25 years old and which is allowing leakage, causing mold and potential circuitry and wiring woes, per the ECS report.

Additionally, the mission's chimney has suffered a breakdown in its mortar, leaving the bricks loose.

Many flues and dryer vents are also improperly ventilated, with heated gases sometimes escaping inside the building, ECS inspectors reported.

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  • These are problems that can be fixed and should be fixed. This building offers homes to the most needy and is needed to give refuge to many in our community. When I see these people how many times have I said "But by the Grace of God there Go I!" The Churches, the community needs to pull together and save this building and help the needy.

    -- Posted by gcf on Thu, Oct 13, 2011, at 9:52 AM
  • Problem is, gcf, how many hundreds of thousands of dollars would have to be spent on that building to bring it up to code? More than it would be worth afterward, I suspect. And who's money should be spent on it? Certainly taxpayer money shouldn't go into a money-pit. It has served a good purpose, as you stated, but looks like it's just too far gone to be saved.

    -- Posted by C2H5OH on Thu, Oct 13, 2011, at 10:56 AM
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