HILLSBORO — Tuesday morning saw a construction crew erecting fences blocking off the front of a three-story building that collapsed Monday afternoon on West Main Street in Hillsboro, and officials waited on insurance adjusters, engineers and state authorities to give the go-ahead for cleanup.
West Main Street (U.S. Route 50) remained closed in both directions Tuesday between High Street and West Street as construction workers cordoned off the area, and Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie said he did not know when it would be reopened.
As previously reported, the front of the building at 119 W. Main St. collapsed shortly after 3:30 p.m. Monday, sending a cloud of dust into the air and bricks and debris tumbling across the sidewalk.
McKenzie said that minutes before the collapse, he had been on the phone with a person at Cundiff’s Flowers, a shop an alley from the collapsed building, who said the building was groaning and popping “more than usual.”
Two minutes later, the city got a call saying the building had collapsed, McKenzie said.
“We got lucky this time that no one was hurt,” he said.
McKenzie said around noon Tuesday that the city was waiting for the state to declare the building an emergency abatement project so crews could begin cleanup. According to McKenzie, environmental studies have never been completed on the building to determine the presence of asbestos, a harmful substance frequently used in construction material in the 20th century.
McKenzie said the next step is to have a structural engineer study the building and determine which portions are safe. Then, construction crews will demolish the unsafe portions and seal off the rest, he said. McKenzie added that the engineer will also study the building immediately to the east, currently home to a candy store, since it has a shared wall with the collapsed building.
McKenzie said he was told firefighters who entered that building Monday reported large cracks in the shared wall.
A complication to the process, McKenzie said, is that many of the area’s qualified engineers are in the Dayton area reviewing structures affected by violent tornadoes on Memorial Day.
McKenzie said he had no timeline for the engineer process.
Once the site is cleaned and secured and the necessary demolition is completed, McKenzie said the owner may be taken to court to determine who bears the financial burden.
According to the Highland County Auditor’s Office, the Steven Fettro family owns the building, but Auditor Bill Fawley said Monday he had been told Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings had purchased the building. Hastings told The Times-Gazette that he had only placed an offer on the building and that it had yet to be finalized when the collapse occurred.
Meanwhile, three other buildings down the block that have been deemed structurally unsafe and unfit for occupancy are under the city’s microscope, with McKenzie describing them as a “ticking time bomb.”
Court proceedings for full condemnation are pending, according to Anton Weissman, the city’s building code enforcement official.
Weissman and the city have been criticized for taking a hard line on code enforcement in recent months, and McKenzie has more than once defended the strategy.
In a statement from McKenzie Monday night, the safety and service director railed against local residents who have opposed aggressive code enforcement.
“Does everyone still think code enforcement and building inspection is not warranted in the city?” he asked.
McKenzie said the collapsed building had been deemed unfit for occupancy and the city had been slowly working with the owner to resolve the issues, which he said “everybody has screamed for us to do.”
“Well that’s the issue,” he said via text message. “The city can’t tell you when the collapse will happen and therein lies the danger to the public. Many are a ticking time bomb and you can’t see the timer. What if it were your family member or friend who was walking on that sidewalk or in the business when it finally collapsed? Who wants that on their conscience? Not me.”
McKenzie said he hopes the buildings at 125, 127, 129, 131, 133 and 137 W. Main St. — three structures including the old Parker House at the end of the block — “don’t face the same fate before something is done.”
The owners of Momma’s West Main Cafe, a popular diner located in the building adjacent to the Parker House, have said another engineer reviewed the building and declared it structurally sound.
D.J. Osborne Jr., a West Union attorney, said he represents a limited-liability company that has purchased the Momma’s building and the building immediately to the east, both formerly owned by Jack Hope. He said a legal description of the properties must be completed before a deed can be approved and signed.
“The overarching plan is to save the two buildings and restore them,” he said, adding that the company, called the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Group, wants to restore a large ballroom on the second floor of the Momma’s building.
According to state business records, Osborne himself and Martha A. Osborne incorporated the business on April 19, 2019, three days after the buildings were deemed unfit for habitation.
Hastings has said the Hope family agreed to donate the Parker House to the city for demolition, but county records still show Hope owns the building. The four-story structure is in an advanced state of deterioration, according to the city.
The Times-Gazette asked McKenzie if the other structures on the block would fall if the Parker House collapsed, and he simply said, “That’s the million dollar question.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.