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MAY 12 - MAY 19, 2015

Isaiah 61's House of Cards More Dangerous Than Previously Thought

By Mike Hudson

May 12, 2015

The city paid more than $34,000 to demolish the house after Isaiah 61 students were taught to improperly support a roof after removing bearing walls. Thank God the precious children who attended these classes weren’t hurt.

After... Incompetent management let this house go kerplunk.
That’s simply not enough support to go and leave a house for seven months without bearing walls.

As these pictures, provided by Community Development Director,  Seth Piccirillo, show - the roof was not properly supported.

Without meaning to, Seth Piccirillo, the city's director of community development, confirmed a May 5 Niagara Falls Reporter story concerning the collapse of a vacant house at 1338 Centre Ave. after it had been turned over to the Isaiah 61 Project for rehabilitation. Workers had removed structural bearing walls from the home's interior, jimmying in makeshift pieces of lumber of the approximate same length to hold the structure up. These types of supports, known as "strongbacks," are considered temporary measures at best.

The cause of the collapse has never been in dispute. What piqued Piccirillo was the timing of the disaster, and the fact the Reporter found out about it, things he went on about on his department's illustrated Facebook page.

"Today, a weekly publication printed a story on a Centre Ave house renovation that may be misleading. The article questions the removal of structural support beams that could have caused a collapse," Piccirillo wrote. "The story also attempts to assess blame. These are photos (taken in November 2014) of structural supports, prior to work stopping for the winter. Trades students did not work on the house after November of 2014." In other words, the situation was worse than we at the Niagara Falls Reporter even suspected. Rather than allowing the temporary supports to prop the derelict structure up for a day or even a week, the Isaiah 61 team allowed them to remain in place for six months, through one of the roughest winters in memory.

Like a ticking time bomb, the dangerous collapse was just waiting to happen. "Yes, the roof ended up in the basement," Acting Code Enforcement Director Louis Fontana told the Reporter. "Thank God nobody got hurt." Several Niagara Falls contractors contacted for this story declined comment because of possible conflicts of interest with the city. But Los Angeles contractor Mark Archetti had no such qualms when we showed him photos of Isaiah 61's handiwork.

"A strongback should not be viewed as a replacement for the joists or beams, but should be seen as a backup or support to the main element," he said. "When done properly, this can help protect the integrity of buildings, improving the chances of being able to repair damage and continue to make use of the structure for years to come." Obviously, this was not the scenario at 1338 Centre Ave.

Comically, the stated mission of Isaiah 61 is to teach disadvantaged inner city youth the skills needed to land good paying jobs in the construction trades. Previously, the organizations headquarters on Hyde Park Boulevard was condemned after city inspectors found electrical service was being provided by a tangle of extension cords plugged into a building next door. Records show the not for profit organization has received a total of $702,000 from the city along with $157,000 from the New York State Power Authority and $200,000 from the John R. Oishei Foundation. Isaiah 61 has been without a leader since September, when founder and CEO James Haid abruptly resigned and left town.

As for Seth Piccirillo, his Facebook post was right about one thing. "As with all topics, more research and facts always makes for better communication," he wrote.





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