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Get to root of Nicholaus Building's near collapse

Get to root of Nicholaus Building's near collapse

Source of Nicholaus building's instability needs to be found to prevent future tragedy

Luck is what you call it when no occupants of a building are killed or injured after the structure shakes so violently that pieces of ceiling fall down and the walls separate from the floors.

Luck is what happens when that same building doesn't collapse onto two of the city's busiest streets, luckily sparing the lives of motorists or pedestrians who happened to be passing by at the time.

But government entities and construction companies and demolition companies can't count on luck to save them every time.

They need to make sure they're not in the position of allowing bad luck to strike.

That's why Schenectady city officials need to conduct a thorough, public investigation into the causes of the near-collapse of the Nicholaus Building last Friday.

Something caused the building that's been standing near the corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard for nearly 200 years to almost give way the afternoon of April 1.

And it wasn’t just bad luck.

It wasn't an earthquake. (We checked.) It might have been a natural progression — a very old structure simply giving way to age and gravity. No building is designed to last forever.

But circumstantial evidence indicates that it had something to do with the condition of the building and the construction-and-demolition work done directly adjacent to it in the week or two prior to the near-collapse.

Was the building properly inspected prior to the work being done? The Gazette has filed Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests with the city for inspection reports for the Nicholaus building dating back to Jan. 1. Did the city have reason to believe the building was in danger of collapse prior to the shaking?

We've also filed a FOIL for the inspection and permit documents for the demolition of the adjacent Olender Mattress building, which was removed in March to prepare for the construction of the new $20 million Electric City Apartment complex.

Did the demolition have something to do with the collapse? Did construction equipment directly or indirectly damage the building or its foundation? Did removing the Olender building destabilize the ground under the Nicholaus building or allow rain water on the newly exposed ground to undercut its foundation?

Were these contingencies considered before or during the demolition and were all the procedures followed?

And now that the Nicholaus building has been shored up by steel girders welded together and driven into the ground, is it stable enough to continue standing or has so much damage been done that the safest course of action would be to tear it down? These are questions the public has a right to have answered.

If city leaders can't objectively conduct the investigation, then an outside independent agency should be brought in to do it.

The investigation should be public and the citizens should have access to all related documents (unlike the investigation into last year's fatal Jay Street fire).

When the Nicholaus building didn't fully collapse, a tragedy was averted. Officials need to uncover the reasons for the damage so they can prevent a future occurrence somewhere else. Next time, we all might not be so lucky.

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