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City Hall sagging

Suffolk City Council members heard a disappointing report Wednesday from engineers who have been hired to assess the structural deficiencies of the aging municipal building.

Gerry Jones, the city’s capital programs and buildings director, summarized the findings related to city hall and the old police headquarters. Major structural problems include bowing walls, corroded metal, cracks in interior walls Jones described as big enough to put a person’s hand into, and a falling floor slab that is leaving some interior walls “hanging in the air.”

“We found a lot of deficiencies in the construction,” Jones said.

City Council voted to move about $170,000 from a parking lot project to continue working with the engineers to stabilize the building.

The engineers investigating the building were so concerned about the building’s main entrance that they recommended it be blocked off until the city is able to stabilize it. The limestone canopy, they wrote, is not attached to the building, and the arch is leaning inward by about one inch. Furthermore, decorative elements in the exterior wall not originally designed to be load-bearing are now supporting weight because of the sagging, Jones said.

He said many of the problems in the building are because of construction techniques and “shortcuts” that are not up to today’s standards, but others can be attributed to nature or age. The old police headquarters was constructed in 1962, while the main building was built in 1964 and an addition constructed in 1975.

One main problem, Jones said, is that the building is built over a ravine that was filled in before construction. However, the fill dirt was not compacted enough before construction, he said, and has sunk over the years. Therefore, the building’s main floor slab has nothing supporting it in the center of the building.

The movement of underground water into and out of the area may also have caused some sagging, Jones added.

Several council members said they were concerned about the safety of city employees and the public.

“We need to take this seriously,” Councilman Leroy Bennett said. “I think we have some serious issues here.”

Councilman Charles Brown indicated he will not support major repairs to the building.

“I would not vote to put not one dime in that building unless it’s to tear it down,” he said.

Vice Mayor Curtis Milteer asked if city departments should begin relocating, but City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn and Mayor Linda T. Johnson took a more long-range approach.

“It’s not too soon to start thinking of what we need to do,” Johnson said.

A more detailed report will be delivered to the city in the next few months. In the meantime, Jones said, the city will continue to address any situations seen as life-threatening.