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Fear of building collapse closes Tarentum road

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 4:23 p.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Tarentum Police place emergency tape in front of the building known as the Leaning Tower of Tarentum on East Fourth Avenue because of fears of a collapse on Monday afternoon, March 10, 2014.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
The former laudromat on East Fourth Avenue, known locally as The Leaning Tower of Tarentum, has seen a 3/4' shift in the already crooked foundation in the last month according to Tarentum Borough officials on Monday, March 10, 2014.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Tim Dzugan, Tarentum street department worker, places barricades blocking an alley leading to East Fourth Avenue in front of the building known as the Leaning Tower of Tarentum because of fears of a collapse on Monday afternoon, March 10, 2014.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
A Tarentum Borough code enforcement vehicle sits outside the former laudromat building on East Fourth Avenue in Tarentum that has structural deficiencies and must be demolished. The building, known locally as the Leaning Tower of Tarentum, is owned by Ron Gillette Inc. and will be torn down by that company. Photo taken Monday, March 10, 2014.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Tarentum Borough officials and workers with Ron Gillette, Inc. confer outside the former laudromat building (left) on East Fourth Avenue in Tarentum that has structural deficiencies and must be demolished. The building, known locally as the Leaning Tower of Tarentum, is owned by Gillette and will be torn down by that company.

Borough officials have determined Tarentum's “leaning tower” is in danger of falling down.

The police department closed off East Fourth Avenue, between Wood and Lock streets, on Monday afternoon.

The building apparently moved between a half-inch and 34-inch in about five weeks, according to Eureka Fire-Rescue's “unscientific” monitoring of the structure, said Brad James, deputy chief of Eureka Fire-Rescue.

“We're concerned that it might give way,” said Borough Manager Bill Rossey. “We've been talking with Gillette about getting this building down. It sort of came to a head because we're concerned.”

Representatives of Ron Gillette Inc., which has owned the building whose front is at 203 E. Fifth Ave. since December 2012, and borough safety officials were inspecting the building on Monday. The long, narrow building stretches a block to East Fourth Avenue, and that's where the ominous tilt appears to be at its worst.

Gillette could begin demolition work as soon as today, Rossey said.

He said Gillette could be fined daily if that work does not start this week.

Code enforcement officer Chris Fabec said the building “should've been (taken down) a long time ago.

“It's not safe to go inside,” he said.

The borough asked Eureka to begin monitoring the building's movement about three years ago. To do so, the company painted lines on the edge of the leaning building and the edge of the back of the adjacent Bangor's Bar, then measured the space between the two about once a month.

It's believed the building has been leaning for about 70 years, since the devastating St. Patrick's Day flood of 1936.

The freeze-thaw cycle likely led to the building's recently increased movement, said borough engineer Dan Schmitt, with Gibson-Thomas Engineering, who said he was not involved with the borough's recent efforts to get the building torn down.

A representative of Gillette said half of the building facing Fifth Avenue may be left standing and reused for a coin-operated laundry and dry cleaner.

Rossey said employees of 3 Rivers Staffing, which is next to the leaning building opposite Bangor's, likely will work out of a trailer during the demolition. The borough advised them it's not safe to occupy the building, Rossey said.

An employee there declined to comment on the company's plans.

Jodi Weigand and Brian Rittmeyer are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Weigand can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com. Rittmeyer can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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