Bohi: ‘This building has been blatantly ignored’

A leisurely walk around the Bloomfield Square recently led one resident to become alarmed when she noticed several bricks protruding from the second story of one of the endangered buildings on the west side of the square.

“That exterior wall appears to have deteriorated much more since the building was barricaded for safety reasons two years ago,” she thought.

As several individuals checked out both barricaded buildings a few days later, they noticed the adjoining interior supporting walls of the two buildings were crumbling and bowing inward with sections of brick breaking and falling to the floor.

When contacted this week, former City Development Director Chris Ball said cracks in the exterior walls of the two buildings were originally detected in the spring of 2018. An engineer was brought in to inspect the buildings and condemned them in the summer of 2018.

“The engineer put together a report, condemned the buildings and ordered the upper-story apartments be vacated at that time,” Ball said. “He also issued broad opinions on how the buildings could be stabilized.”

Ball said the front walls of the buildings don’t bear any loads; the load is borne by the sidewalls. “What needs to happen is for jacks to be installed from the basement to the top floor of the common wall,” he said. “The common wall is part limestone, part brick, and part cinderblock.

Ball said the city knew if anything was going to be done to the buildings, it would have to acquire the properties. The city purchased the red building to the south on Nov. 9, 2018 and the white building on the north on April 26, 2019.

Bids were solicited from Renaissance Restoration to stabilize the common wall as well as a proposal for restoration.

Ball said he no longer remembers the cost for stabilization or restoration.

What he does remember is the project would be expensive and the council could not decide whether to rehab the buildings or tear them down and rebuild.

Ball resigned from his position with the city in August of 2019 and no further progress has been made on the project.

When Councilman Earl Howard was notified of the potentially worsening situation last week, he notified DPW Richard Wilcox and asked current Development Director Tammy Roberts to begin looking at grant opportunities.

“I think there may be some COVID money for economic development that could potentially be used for this project,” he said.

Howard said he was placing the issue on this week’s council agenda.

“There has been nothing done in nine months,” Howard said. “I was hoping we would have been working on this long before now.”

DPW Richard Wilcox was asked about the problem Monday and said city officials are researching the records on the two buildings. There are a few brief sketches of possible solutions, he said.

“The most important thing is that we don’t set this aside,” he said. “People are still interested in moving forward.”

Wilcox, who recently contracted as interim DPW for the city of Bloomfield, said there seems to be a consensus to pursue help through grant programs.

“There is a sense of positivity,” he said. “We’ll need to research grants and budget monies down the road. We need to talk to different engineers and get opinions from companies that specialize in historic preservation.

“These are complex problems that require collaborative effort,” he said.

However, considering the buildings’ condition, Wilcox also admitted something needs to happen quickly. “We’re going to have to find someone who can go in there and develop an opinion while assuring that person’s safety. That’s a tough one!” he added.

Councilman Jake Bohi said Howard contacted him about the problem within the past week.

Bohi, too, has noticed deterioration of the buildings in the past couple of months. “I’ve noticed the bricks protruding more,” he said. “I’m looking at this and wondering if we have already missed the opportunity to rehab this building. It appears that working on this building would be risky.

“This building has been blatantly ignored by some officials,” Bohi said. “Hopefully, we can still do something.”