EDITORIAL The issues surrounding a collapsed building

July 14, 2017
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

It’s too soon to make any sweeping judgments about who or what is to blame in the dramatic collapse of a building that housed apartments and a barbershop on North Main Street in downtown Washington Wednesday morning.

Investigators will ultimately make those determinations, and a clearer picture will emerge as to whether the owners of the structure at 15 N. Main St., which was also known as the Montgomery Building, were negligent in making repairs. City officials described it as a “nuisance property” that has been the subject of several citations. Residents reported cracks forming in the walls in the weeks leading up to the rear section and upper floor of the building crumbling.

Another question that needs to be explored: Can action be taken more expeditiously against properties that have been deemed nuisances? We noted in our coverage of the building collapse in Thursday’s edition that a notice about a wall that had been deemed “cracked” and “not structurally sound” was sent in February, a citation was filed in March and a hearing was set for next week. Due process is important, but a faster determination of the building’s sturdiness could have potentially spared its residents no small amount of tribulation, not to mention the costs incurred by taxpayers to carry out the rescue of tenants and the structure’s demolition.

That Washington landed at the top of local television newscasts and made headlines far afield for a building collapse is, inescapably and unfortunately, a blow to boosters of the city and its downtown. Images of a partially caved-in building just a few doors down from Washington County’s courthouse are not a sight many would have preferred to have beamed around the region at the top of television newscasts from Pittsburgh stations.

Yes, Washington is far from the only Rust Belt city grappling with aging buildings and a fraying infrastructure. And there’s also no denying Washington’s downtown has seen renewal and vitality, particularly on the southern end of Main Street. Progress is being made, but it’s happening slowly.

That the building collapse happened just a few days after the end of the Whiskey Rebellion Festival brought hundreds of people to downtown Washington is all the more ironic.

Even as we take stock in the wake of this calamity, there are some things to be grateful for. First, and most obviously, that 38-year-old Megan Angelone, a resident of the building, was successfully rescued from the wreckage after being trapped under a refrigerator for nine hours. Also, we all should be glad that the range of first responders who descended on the scene were able to carry out their jobs so efficiently and courageously.

After all, who wakes up in the morning believing that they will have to confront the aftermath of a collapsed building?

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