DEADLY DEMOLITION: Bldg. Trades Offer Expertise, City Council Speeds Inquest

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IMPROPER, nonunion demolition project at 21st & Market Streets went horribly awry, crushing an adjacent store and killing six people.

IMPROPER, nonunion demolition project at 21st & Market Streets went horribly awry, crushing an adjacent store and killing six people.

Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council, has offered the knowhow of all the unions whose members are engaged in construction and demolition work to the City Administration. If the City seeks to come up with sensible and pragmatic regulations, it could value the insights offered by Gillespie.

City Council moved this week to establish a Special Investigative Committee.

In his letter to Mayor Michael Nutter, Gillespie said, “We share your commitment to improving construction- and demolition-site safety in Philadelphia to ensure that a tragedy of this magnitude never occurs again.

“In furtherance of this important public-safety goal, the member local unions of the Philadelphia Building Trades are prepared to offer the expertise and counsel of our highly trained construction safety professionals to assist the City’s Dept. of Licenses & Inspections and other agencies in better recognizing the warning signs of unsafe construction and demolition practices across the city.

“This proposed ‘Construction & Demolition Advisory Committee’ would be directed by Michael Neill, apprentice training director of IBEW Local 98, a city resident and product of Philadelphia’s public-school system; James Dollard, safety director of IBEW Local 98 and one of the most in-demand construction safety experts in the nation; Roscoe Green, training director of Laborers District Council, an expert in demolition work; and all of the resources of the 50-plus member local unions of the Philadelphia Building Trades.

“Mayor, this is a good faith, no-charge offer by the Building Trades to the City of Philadelphia to avail your appropriate agency officials of the knowledge and experience of our superbly skilled and highly trained safety professionals to dramatically improve construction and demolition site safety across the city. We sincerely hope you give our offer every consideration.”

The professional accomplishments and credentials of those safety experts named were attached for the Mayor’s review.

City Council on Monday announced the formation of a Special Investigative Committee to probe the deadly Jun. 5 building collapse at 22nd & Market Streets and undertake a wholesale examination of city regulations and procedures in the areas of building safety, neighborhood development, construction and demolition, and licensing and certification.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke named the following members to the Special Investigative Committee: Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell (3rd Dist.), chair of the Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development & the Homeless; Councilman Bobby Henon (6th Dist.), chair of the Committee on Public Property & Public Works; Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. (4th Dist.), chair of the Committee on Public Safety; Councilman at Large Jim Kenney, chair of the Committee on Labor & Civil Service; and Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez (7th Dist.), chair of the Committee on Licenses & Inspections.

“There are legitimate questions as to whether the deaths of six people and injuries to 14 others could have been prevented,” Clarke said. “While our City mourns this terrible loss, it is on our leaders to examine the events leading up to the 22nd & Market demolition collapse and come up with ways to ensure something like this never happens again. The time for truly proactive government is now.”

The Special Investigative Committee will engage in a comprehensive review of the management and oversight of vacant and blighted buildings across the City; invite industry experts from Philadelphia and elsewhere to give testimony on best practices; and request information from City officials and businesses involved in the 22nd & Market demolition, by subpoena if necessary.

“Property owners have to be held responsible for their actions as well as their inactions,” Henon said. “Whether it’s a decision to leave a property to deteriorate or it’s a decision to try to save a few bucks by hiring untrained and incompetent contractors to do work on a property, owners are responsible for the harm their decisions cause. If they are getting away with it in Center City, they are certainly getting away with it in our neighborhoods. The time to make aggressive changes is now.”

“I have long been a proponent of increasing our budgetary commitment to Licenses & Inspections,” Quiñones Sánchez said. “In light of this tragedy, we need to carefully review our standards and practices for demolitions to ensure that our public-safety agencies are following best practices and are adequately funded.”

“Last week’s tragedy proves a building can be just as deadly as a gun,” Jones said. “As with guns, responsible ownership and management are vital to the public good. The Special Investigative Committee will explore better ways to incentivize good building stewardship – and penalize neglect and abandonment.”

“Preliminary reports indicate the workers at this demolition site had no business being there,” Kenney said. “Examining just how these workers are vetted and finding ways to ensure construction and demolitions are done by truly qualified individuals will be a top priority of this Special Investigative Committee.”

“Residents across the city sound alarms about dangerous buildings and site work every day. Last week’s tragedy makes us wonder if the people are actually being heard by their government,” Blackwell said. “This tragedy demonstrates there not only must be greater communication among City departments, but also greater communication between the City and the people it serves and protects.

The Special Investigative Committee will engage in a comprehensive review of the management and oversight of vacant and blighted buildings across the City; invite industry experts from Philadelphia and elsewhere to give testimony on best practices; and request information from City officials and businesses involved in the 22nd & Market demolition, by subpoena if necessary.

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