Officials: Pawtucket City Hall tower needs immediate fix

Officials: Pawtucket City Hall tower needs immediate fix

Pawtucket workers removed pieces of broken brick from City Hall's troublesome tower last week, and officials are now calling for an immediate fix of the perennially leaky structure. (Valley Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)
Inspectors called in after warning that bricks might fall

PAWTUCKET - The tower on top of City Hall needs immediate work to address crumbling of its brick facade, say city officials.

Leaders have mostly avoided questions about what to do with Pawtucket's landmark tower since a Breeze story in February of 2012 detailed how a $3 million rehab project in 2005-2006 hadn't lasted and water was again pouring in. That $3 million, paid for through a voter-approved bond, ballooned to $4.5 million after interest.

A letter last Thursday from Public Works Director Lance Hill to Mayor Donald Grebien stated that Building Official John Hanley had alerted officials two days earlier that the front side of the tower, located directly over the front doors to the building, "appeared by be pulling away from the structure" of the tower. Hanley had an immediate concern that portions of brick "could potentially fall and pose a safety issue for employees and the general public that utilize the building."

According to Hill, Hanley was also concerned that the problems he was observing could indicate a greater structural issue with the tower.

An immediate visual inspection by city employees determined "that the structural integrity of the tower is intact and not in danger of failure."

But Hill said that "immediate attention is required to address the brick facade problems." First, he said, public works employees removed portions of brick that had broken, or "spalled." That work was set to be completed by last Friday.

"Moving forward, repairs are needed to address these problems as well as to prevent them from reoccurring," wrote Hill. "Repair of the facade, removal/replacement of damaged bricks, and cleaning/painting of the structural steel are anticipated to address the remaining problems associated with the brick/structural steel interaction at the tower and associated leaking and water intrusion."

Hill said an additional "detailed exploratory investigation to isolate and correct" the issue "definitely may be warranted." He said that during the investigation by qualified professionals, additional areas of broken brick were discovered.

"I anticipate that the scope of work would incorporate these areas as well," he said.

Hill said officials will get quotes on what an evaluation of the tower would cost.

"I anticipate the associated investigation, design, and construction to be very costly," he said, adding that Public Works will work with purchasing officials on the appropriate way to proceed, as emergency purchasing procedures may be needed.

Dylan Zelazo, spokesman for Mayor Donald Grebien, told The Breeze this month that officials haven't focused much lately on ways to address the tower's problems because they've been working on the idea of possibly moving police and fire operations located on either end of City Hall to a new facility.

City Council President David Moran said this week that he'll recommend referring the matter to the council's property committee for an "in-depth discussion," with the entire council invited.

"If more studies are needed, how much will they cost? What is the actual goal here?" asked Moran. "Is the goal to preserve the tower for years to come or are we considering possibly relocating if it makes more economical sense."

According to Moran, "We have to get a good handle on this once and for all and make a sound decision in the best interest of the taxpayers, and commit to it and act on it."

Moran said he wants to hear public comment from the Grebien administration on the issue.

"I would like to see us all on the same page here," he said. "Both the council and the mayor have to work together and be accountable as this issue develops and moves forward."

The city is moving in a positive direction, said Moran, "but this is what I like to call a 'bump in the road,' and we have to deal with it and attack it head on."

The City Council, and not the mayor, will ultimately decide what happens to the tower.

Moran said in February of 2013 that the council had "10 other things" on the agenda ahead of the City Hall tower issue.

The cracked and leaking tower has been a controversial topic for years, with historic preservationists saying that it should be saved and those who want to save money over the long term saying it should be torn down. Experts have said the brick exterior will continue to crack as the steel interior structure expands and contracts with weather changes.

Councilor Albert Vitali Jr. has repeatedly called for leaders to "do the right thing" for taxpayers and tear the tower down. City leaders briefly discussed putting the tower question on the 2012 ballot for city voters to decide.

The following are the four options for fixing the tower that were presented by consultant company RGB in its 2012 report:

* Complete restoration of the tower's masonry, at an estimated cost of $1,118,750;

* Installation of a rain screen, at a cost of $1,315,000;

* Demolition of the tower, at a cost of $2,073,750;

* Or do nothing and allow the tower to keep leaking.

A group of historical preservationists and downtown professionals organized two years ago to advocate for saving the tower and restoring it again. What one downtown professional described as a "large and vocal" contingent of people against tearing the tower down was led by members of the Pawtucket Historic District Commission and the Pawtucket Preservation Society. City Hall's tower serves no purpose other than as a decorative fixture.

Comments

Sometimes old things just need to go away. How much would Pawtucket have NOT spent if the tower had been torn down in 2005. When old stuff doesn't perform a useful function anymore, it's time to be done with it. Hmmm. City council, committees, and commissions, too?

I agree the tower should be taken down. We the taxpayers don't need to keep fixing something that never can be fixed. As far as your comments about "old stuff doesn't perform, etc" I think the people who are on the City Council right now are doing a great job. They are working with the administration and keeping our city out of debt. I believe they are all working hard (except Barros) and want to keep moving our city forward.

If something does not work correctly it should be fixed. If it is fixable. The city tried that in 2005-06- did not work. Get the contractors back to fix it? our city officials cannot find the contract/guarantee. Also, an engineering assessed the tower is potentially a structure that inherently leaks due to unavoidable expansion and contraction within its infrastructure.
But let's say it can be made "unleakable". Will our government be able to execute this repair successfully? Track record: cannot find warranty on 05-06 tower project, $2mil animal shelter project with bad heating system that had to be redone, Lynch arena, Friendship Garden in Slater Park, the zoo, under funded pensions- all failures committed by our city government.
Do we really want to entrust our government with fixing this tower?
And as for the sage wisdom from our noble city council who are so proud to serve Pawtucket, where is the outcry against this city's incompetence?

of approximately $5 million that cannot guarantee how long that lasts. Almost as long as the last $3million dollar bond fix that is costing Pawtucket $4.5 million after payoff. With the cities logic <laughing> we should all be driving Model-A Fords still. Tear that tower down and be done with it. Fire and Police Depts are looking for another location any way. Stop throwing good money after bad.

Please investigate why our city fire dept gets to tell homeowners and businesses on how to protect their buildings BUT in atleast two of the fire stations there is no smoke detectors or heat detectors?! Headquarters and the Slater Park stations have none! I'm sure the others don't either. Double standards? Ask mayor Grebby that!

Rhode Island is famous for a policy of destruction by neglect. Just look at our schools, highways and other infrastructure. The tower serves absolutely NO useful purpose, except to suck money from other projects or services that the city needs. Bite the bullet once on the higher fee to dismantle it, or keep paying ever escalating repair and refurbishment until the end of time or when taxpayers finally say "Enough". Whichever comes first.