More City Officials Skip Hearing on Philly Building Collapse

Conflict between City Council's special investigative committee and members of the Nutter administration continued as representatives from two City departments failed to appear at the third of five special hearings looking into the deadly Center City building collapse on 22nd and Market last month.

According to Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.'s office, representatives from the Fire Department and the chair of the Department of Licenses and Inspections committee Maria Quinones-Sanchez were originally scheduled to appear at today's hearings but were not in attendance. Written testimony was however submitted on behalf of both departments.

Jones said City officials' neglect will not prevent the committee from reaching its goal of determing ways the City can improve its licensing and demolition policies.

"This is a point of frustration but not a point that will deter us from accomplishing the best possible safety methods for the citizens of Philadelphia," Jones said in opening remarks at the hearing.

The investigative committee made up of five council members and led by Jones does have the right to subpeona witnesses to appear. Jones' office declined to coment as to why they have not yet used that power to get City officials to testify.

Today's hearing began with a case study of the hypothetical demolition of the Third Regiment Armory Building at 1221 South Broad street. The study was presented by Robert Brehm from Drexel University's Engineering Management Program and demolition industry expert Alvin Davis who offered advice as to how buildings such as the Armory should be properly demolished.

The Armory building and the Market Street building that collapsed share several similarities pointed out in the presentation including the fact that both buildings were attached to retail stores with a shared wall, and both are surrounded by residential units, vehicular traffic, street parking and sidewalks used by pedestrians.

"We hope to look at this case study to see how can we take best practices and gain some insight from Drexel and other experts to figure out what we should incorporate into City policy. There are hundreds, if not thousands of potential catastrophes that this process may well avoid," Jones said.

During the presentation, Jones posed several hypothetical questions to the department of licenses and inspections to highlight the significane of their absence.

"If L&I were here, which they are not, we would ask how would they calculate the permit that it would take to demolish this building. If L&I were here, we would ask how did they determine that this building was eminently dangerous. If L&I were here, we would ask is the traffic on Broad street -- how does it compare to the traffic on Market street and how would impact their recommedation on how that building would be demolished. Without those actual questions being answered by them, we'll have to turn to our panel of other witnesses," he said.

Three City employees, Acting Commissioner of the Streets Department David Perri, Commissioner of the Water Department Howard Neukrug, and Deputy Commissioner of the Revenue Department Frank Breslin did appear at the hearing and provided testimony.

Six people died and 13 were injured when a four-story building under demolition collapsed onto the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Center City on June 5.

The next hearing is scheduled for August 1 and will focus on the best practices of other municipalities. Jones says a short portion of the hearing will be open for public comment.

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