BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A southeast Iowa judge will be issuing an order for compliance to the owner of downtown building in Fort Madison that is crumbling on one side.
Eighth District Judge Michael Schilling told Fort Madison city attorney Pat O’Connell and Building Director Doug Krogmeier that he would issue a ruling on the case as soon as they finalized a proposed judgment in the case.
The city has been trying to get Bryan Humphrey, the owner of the building on the southeast corner of 8th Street and Avenue G to make repairs to the west side of the building that has repeated settled sending bricks falling on the sidewalk.
The west exterior of the building is visually compromised to the third floor and has wooden boards along a load bearing exterior column to try and secure the structure.
The building has five components, or storefronts, as Michael Purol, described to the judge at a hearing Tuesday morning.
Purol is an structural engineer with Poepping, Stone & Bach Associates out of Keokuk and was retained by the city to inspect the building. An administrative search warrant was granted by Schilling earlier this month and Purol, Krogmeier, Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld, and several members of the Fort Madison Fire Department went through the building on Sept. 11.
Purol said the western most storefront is the portion of the building that needs immediate attention and repair. The other portions of the building are secure, but do have some visible water damage. He said the winter months will surely cause additional damage with the freeze and thaw cycles common to the area.
Humphrey, an attorney himself, was not in attendance at the hearing and was ruled in default by Schilling. Humphrey had his license to practice suspended indefinitely in Jan. 2019 by the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board.
Fire Chief Joey Herren said he wanted the firefighters to see what the building was like inside should any collapse or fire occur. Herren said because of the condition of the western side, it is very possible that should a fire occur, the fire department would only fight it from the outside due to the dangers the building poses.
Purol said the western component has had some mitigation done, but the shoring up of load-bearing structures was done in a way that prevents additional repairs from being done, and is no longer viable for the structure.
The city was originally asking for the court to vacate the building, but after conferring with Purol, O’Connell said it would be the city’s intention to just ask that the western component be kept vacant since Humphrey lives in one of the other sections of the building that is secure.
According to evidence presented Tuesday, Humphrey had retained Klingner and Associates out of Burlington to inspect and recommend corrective action, but Krogmeier testified that only a certain portion of that work had been done, and the work that was done to shore up the building was done 10 months ago and is no longer sufficient to prevent additional settling.
Purol testified that the shoring of load bearing walls was done in a way that prevents additional correction to take place and would have to be removed before other work can be done.
Additional recommended work like brick replacement and tuck pointing hasn’t been done, according to the Klingner report that was shared with city officials.
Krogmeier said the city is out about $30,000 in barricade, engineering and legal costs already. O’Connell said according to city code, which is based on a federal administrative code for dangerous buildings, Humphrey would technically be looking at fines in the $275,000 range over about a year since he was originally given citations for municipal infractions.
But Krogmeier said the city isn’t asking for those fines to be paid.
“It’s unreasonable for him to be able to account for that and make repairs to the building,” Krogmeier told Schilling.
O’Connell said the city would be open to a $150,000 fine with everything above the $30,000 suspended with language that Humphrey either had to make the required repairs to the building or give the city options to make the repairs or demolish the building.
Schilling asked Krogmeier what he thought it would cost to make the required repairs to the building.
“Just the exterior is going to be about $500,000,” Krogmeier said.
Schilling then asked how much it would be to demolish the building. Krogmeier said estimates on that are in the $300,000 range.
Purol said it would be cheaper to demolish the building than repair it, but Krogmeier told the judge the city didn’t have that kind of money in the general fund.
O’Connell said he’d like the court order to contain language that would give the city options if Humphrey fails to comply.
“I’d like to see if he will comply and have the wherewithal to fix it,” O’Connell told the judge.
“Failing that, we want to have the option to do what we can to fix it. Public officials are under a lot of pressure from the community to get something done.”
Krogmeier said he’d like to see what option Humphrey plans to pursue by Oct. 9.