Activists still fighting to save the embattled Bethlehem Steel Administration Building announced Thursday they are filing a lawsuit today against Gateway Trade Center, contending the company hid a structural engineering report filed in August that concluded the building was structurally sound.
The lawsuit, filed by the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, urges Lackawanna City Court to immediately halt demolition that has begun on a rear chemical laboratory at the site off Route 5 near the Buffalo city line. The demolition ball has not touched the long-vacant 1901 Beaux Arts-style administration building – with its ornate facade – that preservationists have rallied to save.
“With this lawsuit, we’re hoping we can stop the bulldozers and take the time to do a proper investigation and a proper reuse study,” said David Torke, a member of the group.
The report by Klepper Hahn & Hyatt, based in Syracuse, concluded that the administration building was in better shape than previously thought. It stands in contrast to views expressed by Steven Bremer, Lackawanna’s code enforcement officer, and two prior studies in which engineers did not gain access to the building.
The preservationists obtained the report through a Freedom of Information Law request.
“We believe the overall building structure to be sound and not at imminent risk of collapse at this time. The collapsing ceilings and abundance of debris observed in the building gives a false illusion of the floors collapsing,” the report said.
It recommended the removal of dormers, parapets, chimneys and other areas in danger of collapse; selective demolition to better gauge the building’s health; and sealing all roof and window openings to keep the elements out.
Torke said the two prior studies had been the “ammunition” used by the City of Lackawanna to push for demolition. He also raised concerns that Parker Bay Engineering, which did the first report concluding the property needed to be torn down, shared office space with Empire Dismantlement, the demolition contractor first hired by Gateway before the Erie County Court-ordered demolition at the city’s request was temporarily stayed from May to November. Zoladz Construction Co. was subsequently hired to perform the demolition.
Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt was chosen by Gateway from a list provided by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which suggested a firm with experience in historic buildings. The agency was required to sign off because Gateway sought a state Restore New York grant, which required the engineering report and a reuse study that never materialized. The company indicated it hoped to use the funds for asbestos removal and possibly demolition.
“Gateway has not only been irresponsible in taking care of the building, but they are asking for state money to continue to shrug their responsibility,” preservationist Meagan Baco said.
Dana Saylor, another preservationist, said she hoped the lawsuit will compel Gateway to follow through on the Restore New York funding requirements and conduct the reuse study.