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Massive hole in Dormont parking lot reveals even more concrete boxes

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 11:41 p.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
A crew from Niando Construction in Penn Hills works on a hole on Thursday, March 7, 2013, in the parking lot of Dormont Park. James Knox | Tribune-Review

The mystery of a buried, mobile-home-sized container that collapsed and gobbled up part of the Dormont recreation center's parking lot deepened with the discovery of two more concrete boxes.

Officials don't know how long the empty boxes have been buried 7 feet underground or who placed them, but speculate they were part of an underground storm-water drainage system from the early 20th century.

“We'll know once we get it all fully dug out,” borough Manager Jeff Naftal said on Thursday.

The boxes — each 17 feet wide, 53 feet long and 12 feet deep — were buried side-by-side under the parking lot close to Dormont Avenue.

The recreation center was built in late 1929, but its pool dates to 1920.

Workers installed sewers in the area in the early 1920s; officials speculate a storm drainage structure would have been needed for Dormont Avenue when it was connected to Banksville Road.

Dormont Avenue and Banksville Road were connected by at least 1934, according to a map of the borough on the Historic Pittsburgh website, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh's Digital Research Library.

The concrete containers appear linked by a channel that would allow water to go into the first container and overflow to successive containers, Naftal said.

They might have been used to hold excess water and take pressure off the storm sewer, said Franco Niando, co-owner of Niando Construction Inc., while at the site with an excavation crew.

His company has done similar work, including at a parking lot in East McKeesport, he said.

Recreation center workers spotted a hole last week when part of the parking lot collapsed. About five parking spaces were affected, Naftal said.

Dormont hired Niando for what was expected to be a two-day job starting on Tuesday. After the company started working, it discovered more containers.

Because of the size of the boxes, Niando Construction will not remove them, but cave in the roofs and fill them with dirt, concrete and rock, reusing as much excavated material as possible.

The project is expected to take two weeks, Niando said.

“We want to take our time and do it right,” he said.

Dormont expected to pay Niando $3,200 a day for work on one container. Now that more boxes have been uncovered and extra filling material might have to be purchased, the final price is unknown, Naftal said.

“I'll go back to council at their April 1 meeting to get ... approval for whatever we end up spending on the final project,” he said.

Borough crews will repave the lot, Naftal said. Activities at the recreation center will not be affected, he added.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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