Concerns About Demolition Voiced Weeks Before Collapse

Citizen complained to city over potential dangerous conditions at site

The City of Philadelphia was notified of potential unsafe demolition practices happening at the site of Wednesday’s building collapse -- nearly a month before the deadly event.

Center City resident Stephen Field contacted the city’s Philly311 helpline on May 6 to tell them he was concerned about a lack of safety equipment used by demolition workers and protection for pedestrians walking on the sidewalk below.

In an interview with late Wednesday night, Field, who lives near the collapse scene at 22nd and Market, said he routinely walked by the job site and was afraid the demolition site might be unsafe.

“The first thing I noticed was they were working without safety equipment,” he said. “The was nothing resembling efforts to prevent people walking by from being hit with brick.”

Field, who does not work in construction and does not have trade training, shared his email correspondence with Philly311 with In his initial message, the 49-year-old highlighted his concerns to city officials.

“The workers are not wearing any safety equipment (not even hardhats while working to demolish brick facades with crowbars). The sidewalk is not adequately protected, and there appears to be no adequate plan to prevent the collapse of walls or facing materials onto pedestrians and those exiting the subway,” Field wrote in a message to the call center.

Licensing & inspection data shows contractor Griffin Campbell Construction was handing demolition at multiple adjacent properties along the 2100 block of Market Street -- 2132 Market Street, 2134 Market Street and 2136 Market Street, site of Wednesday's collapse. All three properties were either owned by or have ties to New York-based STB Investments.

An unidentified representative replied to Field the next day, May 7, requesting the building’s proper address, type of work being done, who was doing the work and whether a valid permit was being displayed.

Field responded an hour later, providing the address of 2134 Market Street – the property next to the sandwich shop and apartment building which collapsed Wednesday.

Field said Philly311 later notified him that an inspector was dispatched to the work site to investigate the claims and found no issues.

At a press conference Thursday morning, Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Department of Licenses & Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams talked about the communication between a citizen, believed to be Field, and the city. Williams said once officials received the citizen's complaint, an L&I inspector was dispatched to the work site at 2134 Market Street on May 14.

An initial inspection of ongoing demolition was conducted by an inspector and found no violations, officials said.

Officials said the property next door at 2136 Market Street was not inspected because demolition work had not begun.

“The property 2136 [Market Street], commonly known as the Hoagie City building, that demolition had not yet started. That building was fully intact. And no work had been done yet on that particular building,” Mayor Nutter said.

Williams said no subsequent inspections were conducted at either property, prior to the collapse.

"When we went out on 5/14 we had no indication that there were unsafe conditions," Williams said. "We did not receive any subsequent reports about the demolition of that project."

However, Field disputes officials' claims. He tells he witnessed demolition work being done on both properties prior to his contact with the city.

Field says there is "no question" that workers were using tools to demolish the roof of both properties.

We've requested comment from the Mayor's Office and L&I over these claims, but have yet to receive a response.

After sharing his initial concerns with the city, Field says he continued to be concerned about conditions at the work site as the demolition progressed.

“Later in May and as late as last weekend, I saw crews working late into the evening and on weekends at the site. That didn’t seem normal to me,” he said. “Last Sunday, they had a ladder on the roof of the Salvation Army and were looking at the adjoining wall.”

An user shared a video of demolition work being conducted at 2136 Market Street on Sunday. In the video, workers could be seen using a backhoe on the sidewalk to claw at walls and the building's sign. Another worker doused the structure in water spraying over the an entrance to SEPTA's underground Subway-Surface Trolley Line.

Questioned about whether licensed contractors in Philadelphia need show they are trained to properly demolish a building, Williams said city code does not require it.

In light of the collapse, Field said he’s also contacted Philly311 about other properties in the neighborhood with similar working conditions. He says while officials did respond to him, he felt the process was bureaucratic.

“Unfortunately, I left it alone,” he said -- adding he hopes sharing this information “leads to some good things.”

Williams sent out a press release Thursday afternoon saying the Department of Licenses & Inspections will now begin conducting "proactive inspections" of all private demolitions happening across the city.

According to L&I, 100 open demolition permits were issued in 2013 and 200 others since 2009. Only 10-percent of the sites -- or 30 -- were inspected as of Thursday.

The release also said inspectors visited several other Griffin Campbell Construction work and demolition sites following Wednesday's collapse -- stopping work at two locations.

NBC10's Harry Hairston visited two sites in the city's Midtown Village section where work stop orders were posted -- one at 1300 Walnut Street and another at 320 Butler Street.

City officials say their investigation into what caused the collapse and what inspections took place is ongoing.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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