More than a year after the Citizens for a Clean Sedalia Committee began looking into the idea of a downtown building inspection ordinance, and six months after the Sedalia City Council passed the ordinance, inspections finally began early last week.
About 20 buildings have been inspected by Norton & Schmidt Consulting Engineers LLC, of North Kansas City, and so far no major problems have been found, said Clark Kelly, principal with Norton & Schmidt.
“No. 1 we’re looking for public safety,” Kelly told the Democrat on Tuesday between inspections. “No. 2 we’re looking for deterioration and maintenance issues that need to be addressed. We’re looking at roofs, the condition on the outside, and deterioration of walls on the inside.
“Most of these buildings are well built, we’re making sure structural issues are addressed so owners can start gearing maintenance around those issues.”
The Democrat went with Kelly and Project Engineer Tony Altenhofen during a building inspection on Tuesday in the 100 block of West Main Street. Altenhofen, who is a roofing specialist, inspected the roof, with assistance from the Sedalia Fire Department. He and a SFD official rode in the bucket of the department’s new 100-foot ladder truck to reach the roof. He then walked across the entire roof, looking for any cracks or water damage, and took a photo of the roof.
The Democrat accompanied Kelly as he inspected the inside of the building, going through the basement and two upper floors to look at walls and the foundation. Kelly was led through the building by the property owner, and he kept her in the loop of what he was finding every step of the way, noting anything he found and asking questions about the building’s age that could help him better compile his findings.
At random points during the inspection, Kelly used a screwdriver to test the stability of the rock/brick and mortar in the walls. He would tap the screwdriver in the mortar, seeing if pieces of mortar would fall off or if he could stick the screwdriver into the wall — a sign of a weak wall that needs repair.
“If I can’t stick it in all the way it’s in good shape,” Kelly said. “Just the surface areas need to be addressed because it’ll keep flaking off. Mortar was made of sand and lime, and it turns back to sand and falls out of the walls as the walls settle on themselves.”
Kelly also used a plastic hammer to tap on the walls at random points. He said if dust fell as he hit the wall, that meant the bricks were loose and causing dust or mortar to fall out.
The building had several areas covered by plaster, similar to many other older buildings, and Kelly said that can make inspections difficult.
“Sometimes that’s part of the issue,” Kelly said. “The walls can be covering what needs to be addressed.”
He also said cracks in building walls could be because of aging plaster falling off, and that even if there is a crack in the wall, it doesn’t immediately spell disaster.
“Just because it’s cracked doesn’t mean it’s bad,” he said. “Just needs to be fixed.”
Ordinance to prevent problems
The ordinance, passed in December 2013, requires 221 commercial and mixed-use buildings from Moniteau to Massachusetts avenues and Broadway Boulevard to the railroad tracks to undergo a thorough inspection by a certified historical engineer to all roofs, guttering, masonry, openings and foundations by April 2016. Then, every three years, a city inspector will look at buildings from the public right of way; all inspections will be paid for by the city.
“The city pays for the inspections, we pay for health and safety inspections to protect the public,” said City Administrator Gary Edwards. “We don’t even know if there’s problems. We’re assisting to let the property owners know if there is a problem or not. Otherwise it’s going to sit there, and if there are problems they will collapse if not addressed. We’re saying, ‘here are the problems, we want to make you aware of them.’ Otherwise we could be spending a lot of money for every building that needs improvements.”
Kelly said the goal is to inspect 112 buildings this year and 112 buildings in 2015. Letters have been sent out to the businesses in the designated area, and inspections are being scheduled on a first come, first served basis. Some businesses even volunteered to be some of the first buildings to be inspected.
“Several had requested that they were looked at at the beginning because they were either wanting to sell or wanted to know what they need to fix,” said Community Development Director John Simmons.
The next steps
As Kelly and Altenhofer complete inspections, they start compiling a report of their findings for each building, which is then submitted to the city. City officials will then make those documents available to the property owners so they can begin repairs, if any are needed.
“We’re making them available to property owners, and they will then realize what needs to be done to make their building safe and where we go from there, we want to reach that stage first,” Edwards said. “If there are problems, we’ll find out what it’ll take to make the building safe, then we’ll work out an understanding with (the owners) as far as what it will take to correct the problems.”
The city is paying for all the inspections, unlike other cities which require inspections and require property owners to pay for them, Edwards said, but Sedalia property owners will be responsible for paying for all maintenance work. However, if the owners need financial assistance, Edwards said the city can help owners “look for ways to find assistance. We’ll do all we can to help find solutions to that problem, if that problem is present in their building.”
Overall, the downtown building inspections are meant to assist property owners to protect not only themselves and their business, but also the Sedalia community.
“What we’re doing is pointing out to them necessary maintenance to make those buildings safe. These are buildings the public goes into,” Edwards said. “If they fail, many of them they’re not separated from other buildings and it could impact other buildings, deaths could occur. That’s why we’re making them aware of potential health and safety issues, that’s our role to address them, make them aware of problems that could occur. Citizens have the right to feel safe going into a building.”