Snow Storms Have Stopped, But Structure Collapses Continue

Snow Storms Have Stopped, But Structure Collapses Continue

By Andrew Gorosko, Shannon Hicks

& Kendra Bobowick

Fire Marshal William Halstead said this week that at least a dozen reports of collapsed buildings have come in since January 19 when three barns collapsed within a 12-hour period. That was the start of a disturbing trend of buildings failing. The number may be higher because not all buildings that have collapsed may have been reported, or even discovered yet.

Newtown has not had a snow storm since the overnight weather event of February 1–2 that dropped four inches on the ground, but buildings continue to creak, groan, and, in some cases, fall. Accumulations had been building due to at least eight snow storms this season, including a massive two-day event that dumped 27 inches of snow.

In what was probably the largest building collapse among the incidents that have occurred in town during the past three weeks, a building materials warehouse at BlueLinx Corporation’s distribution center at 201 South Main Street collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow about 5 pm Tuesday.

The structure will need to be demolished, as will two large storage sheds that collapsed at the site on February 4 and February 1, officials said. There were no injuries in the three building collapses at BlueLinx.

About an hour before the warehouse collapsed on Tuesday, many workers were atop its roof shoveling snow off the structure in an attempt to prevent it from collapsing, officials said. Fortunately no one was on the building when it fell in on itself.

By Thursday morning, one large storage shed was still standing at the site, but officials said that the weight of accumulated snow on its roof also puts that building at risk of collapse.

The BlueLinx site has closed for business, with its electricity disconnected and its natural gas service turned off. The property formerly had 18 workers. BlueLinx stores lumber, plywood, millwork, and wood panels.

Bob Lyons, the manager of the BlueLinx facility, had no comment on the building collapses.

On Tuesday about 7 pm, Botsford Fire Rescue and Hook & Ladder firefighters were sent to the scene to deal with a natural gas leak that had occurred there.

The town then issued an emergency message to residents via its CodeRed automated telephone message system, said Newtown Communications Director Maureen Will. The telephone calls were placed to all telephone numbers registered in the CodeRed system lying within a 1.5-mile radius of the BlueLinx site, representing about 986 telephone numbers.

The message, issued at 7:45 pm, advised the recipients to stay indoors due to the gas situation. At 8:31 pm, a second message advised the recipients that the 201 South Main Street site was safe and secure. The calls were placed from the town’s Emergency Operations Center at Fairfield Hills, which was activated for the emergency.

Ms Will said the intensity of recent winter weather and its consequences in terms of multiple building collapses “is like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’ve never experienced a winter like this.”

Town Chief Building Official John Poeltl said that he and Botsford Fire Chief Wayne Ciaccia told BlueLinx that under the circumstances, it must close down operations. The obvious hazards prohibit anyone from being inside buildings there, he said.

Big Y Closes For A Few Hours

On Wednesday morning about 7:44 am, Hook & Ladder firefighters responded to the Big Y supermarket at Newtown Shopping Village at 6 Queen Street to investigate possible roof problems caused by accumulated snow. Workers at the store had noticed some cracks in wallboard within the building, as well as the misalignment of a series of ceiling tiles.

The store was closed for business on Wednesday morning until the seriousness of the situation could be determined.

Structural engineers and an architect inspected the premises and checked the snowload on the roof before determining that the store could reopen for business.

Workers were advised to remove some snow from the building’s roof as a safety measure.

The Big Y supermarket in Bethel closed its doors for at least a few hours last week under similar circumstances. When employees noticed some cracks in the roof of the 3½-year-old building on February 3, store officials decided to play it safe and closed the Stony Hill Road store until structural engineers could inspect the damage.

Continuing Collapses

While the collapse of the BlueLinx facility may have been the highest profile collapse event, a number of additional buildings in town have also fallen due to the weight of snow and ice on them.

One of three barns at 57 Pole Bridge Road collapsed last week. It was the largest of the three barns on the property owned by Joyce and Bob Staudinger, who were not home when the barn fell during late afternoon on February 3. Hay was being stored in the two-story, 900-square-foot barn.

“We had hay and a truck in there, and the truck survived with just a few scratches,” Mrs Staudinger said. “The way the roof fell, it created kind of a hammock right over the truck.”

The Staudingers had had the roof on the 100-year-old barn replaced about a decade ago, and were more concerned with one of the other barns on their property.

“We never thought that one would go down,” she said. “You go inside it and you could see all the brand-new wood up on the roof. We took care of another barn, an old dilapidated one, having it shoveled out, and that one’s still standing.”

On Sunday, February 6, firefighters were sent to inspect a barn on Bradley Lane. The property, which appeared to have been vacant for a few years, did have another collapse to report. Firefighters were also sent to a home in Sandy Hook earlier this week to assist a homeowner whose deck had collapsed. The concern with that construction failure was that the collapse had occurred over a propane tank. Firefighters were able to secure the scene, and the company that supplied the fuel was contacted.

The Bee Publishing Co. has also suffered a loss from the winter’s unexpected snow levels. The gazebo at The Pleasance, the public garden at 1 Main Street owned and maintained by The Bee, collapsed over the weekend of February 5–6.

The property at 130 Boggs Hill Road also lost its barn this week. The two-story, 1,050-square-foot barn had been a familiar sight for many as they traveled southwest along Boggs Hill; the barn was located on the hard left turn just before Palestine Road.

In the same area of town, a two-story former dairy barn also fell. Located at 42 Hundred Acres Road, the 816-square-foot building had been unoccupied but owners were continuing upkeep of the property.

Also discovered this week was something many gardeners, landscapers, and even fans of garden-related boutique items had feared: the greenhouses at The Villages at Lexington Gardens, 32 Church Hill Road, have collapsed.

The nearly 20,000-square-foot retail building, according to land records, includes 9,590 square feet of greenhouse space. The greenhouses as of Wednesday afternoon, however, were little more than twisted metal and a lot of broken windows. The business has been closed since January 11, when a sign was posted on the front door alerting customers that the business was temporarily closed due to heating issues within the building. It had not reopened as of this week.

Another building has been watched closely during the week. The state-owned former residence at 121 Wasserman Way had already lost part of its lower rear roof in recent weeks, but the chimney began sagging ominously and an upper section of the two-family home’s eastern wall had begun buckling this week.

According to First Selectman Pat Llodra, the farmhouse is slated to be demolished. Mrs Llodra told The Bee Wednesday morning that she had told someone with the state that the building was beginning to look “funky.” A permit had been applied for to take the building down, she said.

By Wednesday morning yellow caution tape was blocking the driveway, keeping anyone from getting too close to the condemned building. On Thursday morning equipment was witnessed moving into the area, presumably to finish the job Mother Nature and neglect had started.

A storage shed used by Housatonic Railroad in Hawleyville has collapsed due to the weight of snow on its roof, reported Chief Building Inspector John Poeltl. Three residential garages have also collapsed, he said, adding that it is unclear if more buildings will collapse.

“There’s no way for us to predict what’s going to come down,” he said.

Now What?

Town officials, including Mrs Llodra, are keeping watch over Newtown’s rooftops.

“Anything that should be done will be done,” she said. “Buildings are being checked.”

She and Mr Poeltl have been speaking regularly, she said.

“We’re keeping an eye out,” he said, “but I think we’ve cleared the hurdle.”

According to the state’s most current building code from 2005, which Mr Poeltl enforces locally, the municipality of Newtown’s snow load rating is 30 pounds per square foot. The snow on the roof of Big Y this week, Ms Llodra noted, “was within a reasonable weight for that roof.”

Mr Poeltl has not heard a word from the state building department about changes for this rating.

“No one has said anything to me,” he confirmed Wednesday. Fire Marshal Bill Halstead is also in contact with the state. “I send in the list of building collapses,” said Mr Halstead, who added he is also unaware of any possible changes coming from the state level.

So far, officials have been checking municipal structures. They also began checking the schools this week. The large spans of flat school rooftops had been cleared in recent weeks, but they are being monitored.

“Flat roofs are always a concern,” said Mr Poeltl. The portable classrooms have also been cleared. “I am confident that there is not much snow up there,” he said.

Considering the unusually high precipitation this year, he said, “It’s hard to know what snow weighs, but after two feet you should think about clearing it — maybe not houses, but big buildings like Big Y with big spans.”

“Everybody has been busy” clearing roofs and snow, he said. “But it’s dying down now.”

Considering whether any buildings in town posed trouble spots, he said, “I hope not! I hope [the roof scare] is over.

“I think most owners of buildings have taken the snow down,” he added.