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Inspectors thwarted in attempt to determine if Monsour center is in danger of collapse

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 12:10 a.m.
Scott Avolio, City of Jeannette Solicitor, inspects death records from 2002 at the Monsour Hospital on November 9, 2012. Avolio obtained a search warrant to enter and inspect the property. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
The former Monsour Medical Center is located along heavily traveled Route 30 in Jeannette, Westmoreland County. An engineer's report details structural damage and interior mold. Fire damage and vandalism are accelerating the decay of the abandoned building. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Jeannette police Officer James Phillips looks over the once luxurious penthouse during a city inspection of the former Monsour Medical Center on Nov. 9, 2012. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Burn marks were left by one of several fires that broke out in the decaying Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Vandals leave traces of their presence in the former Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
A privacy curtain in a patient room is blown by the wind coming through broken windows at the former Monsour Medical Center in December 2012. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Ed Howly, field inspector for the City of Jeannette, inspects the former Monsour Medical Center on Nov. 9, 2012. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
An apron once used by a mortician hangs on a refrigeration unit near trays of tissue samples strewn about the morgue at the former Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette. City officials have condemned the once-modern hospital. Patient records containing personal and medical details, along with tissue and blood samples, remain in the building six years after it closed. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Alan Ehrensberger of Latrobe has his photo taken to obtain a gun permit for the first time at the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Steph Anderson | For the Tribune-Review

The engineer for the City of Jeannette said a more-detailed structural inspection of the former Monsour Medical Center should be done no later than spring to determine if the deteriorating building is in danger of collapse.

Edward Antonacci inspected the building in November and December and found some structural problems but said he was hampered by a lack of architectural drawings and floor plans for the building, which was constructed in the 1970s.

Antonacci said his inspections were further hampered by lack of lighting and extensive vandalism that made a walk-through difficult and dangerous.

“Since no structural drawings were found and less than 100 percent of the hospital was inspected, no structural conclusions can be made at this time,” Antonacci wrote in his report.

He said some areas of the building are covered by drywall and cabinets that will have to be removed so a room-by-room inspection can be conducted.

One problem he discovered that could affect the structural stability was standing water covering a large portion of the roof. When the water freezes during the winter, it adds extra stress to the roof, Antonacci said, noting that 4 inches of water will increase the structural load to 20 pounds per square foot.

Among the other problems he found were:

• A stairwell on the 10th floor is cracked.

• A stair tower is out of plumb, meaning it is not perpendicular to a horizontal plane.

• Siding on the front of the building is missing or loose and in danger of falling on pedestrians or passing motorists on Route 30 during high winds.

• A penthouse on the top floor — it was used for board meetings and has a 360-degree view of the area — has “cracks indicating movement.”

The city has been stymied in its efforts to determine who among former employees or associates of the hospital may be responsible for maintaining the property.

When the hospital closed in 2006, it was overseen by administrators and a board of directors that dissolved. Prior to that, the hospital was owned by the Monsour Medical Foundation, whose board of trustees managed the facility.

The medical center was founded in 1952 as a six-bed, for-profit clinic in a stone building that still stands near Route 30. The clinic had an emergency room, an operating room, a lab, and a staff of seven physicians, according to newspaper accounts.

The hospital was founded by Dr. Howard Monsour, who was joined by two brothers, Drs. Roy and Robert Monsour, and later by a third brother, Dr. William Monsour. It was later converted to a nonprofit.

In 1954, the Monsours expanded the facility to 50 beds and in the 1970s constructed the tower and expanded its capacity to 100 beds.

After years of financial problems and several bankruptcies, the hospital failed a series of state inspections and had its operating license revoked. After correcting the deficiencies, the state granted the hospital a provisional license, but the administration decided to close the facility in March 2006.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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