The last time we called attention to Schenectady’s seeming inability to keep vandals, squatters and fire starters out of the city’s many abandoned properties (after four suspicious fires in a 10-day period in May), Mayor Gary McCarthy defended his work in that area in a letter to the editor we published June 6.
Among other things, he cited the creation of a “comprehensive ... constantly updated” vacant property inventory, one that police, firefighters, code enforcement and Office of General Service personnel “regularly” check the properties of to ensure their security.
An impressive-sounding defense, but when contacted Friday about the Dec. 27 fire in the handsome (but vacant) brick building at 237 State St., McCarthy acknowledged that the building wasn’t even on the inventory because almost three years ago (in March 2010) its owners indicated they might open a gym there. Thus the building, which sustained considerable damage but luckily wasn’t destroyed, stayed under the city’s radar all that time. And it appears that the building’s unauthorized squatters, whose network of extension cords is believed responsible for the fire, had been living there for awhile.
All we can say is we hope the incident encourages McCarthy to reexamine his methodologies for buildings of this sort because it’s clear the city’s safety net still has some holes in it. And it’s important that they be fixed: The building at 237 State St. wasn’t insured, so the city is lucky that it’s not facing another gargantuan demolition bill, the way it did after the old Brandywine School burnt to the ground in 2007. Then there’s the issue of losing another aesthetically attractive building. Finally, there’s safety: not just of firefighters, but of nearby residents, if a fire spreads.
We still think the city could do a better job with its vacant property list — McCarthy admitted Friday that it’s being done only once a year — and of getting city workers to regularly (i.e. weekly) inspect its buildings to make sure no one’s getting in them.