Schenectady County

Burned Schenectady houses razed quickly

Mayor Gary McCarthy has found a new, lower-cost way to demolish houses in the city as soon as they b

Mayor Gary McCarthy has found a new, lower-cost way to demolish houses in the city as soon as they burn down.

He explained the new policy at Monday’s City Council meeting and received enthusiastic approval from council members.

It started with the apartment building fire at 1461 State St. on Feb. 29.

A man died in that fire. As firefighters investigated, they called in a wrecking crew to lift debris so they could see how the fire grew and the path it took through the building.

McCarthy said it made no sense to have the crew demolish only part of the building.

“When you’ve got them on scene, when you’ve mobilized the equipment, you don’t want them to just lift a few things,” he said.

So as soon as the firefighters had the evidence they needed, the crew went back in to finish the demolition.

“It’s foolish to do this partial thing,” McCarthy said. “Do it. Finish the stuff off so you don’t have that negative influence on the neighborhood.”

Through McCarthy’s years as an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, he knew that wrecking crews could demolish buildings without first removing lead paint and asbestos if the demolition occurred during the fire investigation. As soon as city officials relinquish control of the site, any work must follow state environmental regulations, he said.

Doing it without those hazardous material rules is far cheaper, mainly because it is much faster. The debris must be brought to a special landfill, which is more expensive, but that pales in comparison to the cost of weeks of asbestos removal.

Also, McCarthy said, a quick demolition is far more likely to be covered by insurance.

Usually, the owner is on scene during the fire or can be found through others at the scene. If city officials wait to discuss demolition costs later, he said, any insurance settlement money has usually “walked away” with the owner.

Insurance covered the State Street demolition.

Then a house burned at 605 Union St., near downtown bars. In that case, McCarthy learned there “might” be insurance. But the building was in foreclosure, so the policy might have lapsed.

McCarthy persuaded Metroplex Development Authority to work with the city IDA to cover the $32,000 demolition cost if the insurance policy failed to pay it. Again, the building was demolished at the end of the fire investigation.

Just last week, McCarthy used the quick-demolition policy a third time when a boarded-up house on Windsor Terrace burned.

In that case, there was no insurance. But the quick method cost only $13,000 to $14,000.

The city has budgeted $100,000 for demolitions this year, and that budget was tapped for the job.

“I wish the city had done this a decade ago,” McCarthy said of the policy. “It’s much cheaper.”

Council President Denise Brucker was delighted.

“The city is very fortunate that Gary comes with a great set of skills. From the DA’s office, he knows about the importance of a fire and a crime scene and he knows the other particulars about it,” she said. “Once you give up control of that, now you’re in the maze of bureaucracy.”

She said she would like to find more “creative” ways to demolish buildings, such as using the federal Community Development Block Grant to fund demolitions in the impoverished areas that CDBG targets.

“Maybe we need to get creative,” she said.

The only non-Democrat on the council, Vince Riggi, said he likes the quick demolitions too.

But he said the city must also find a way to demolish the many burned-out houses that have been abandoned for years.

“I’m not opposed to [McCarthy’s policy]. The faster they come down, the better,” Riggi said. “The problem I have is, the ones that have been burned down and should come down.”

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