COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Crews are cleaning up what used to be a three-story building in Columbus’ Bronzeville neighborhood after parts of the century-old structure collapsed Monday in what city officials call a “catastrophic failure.”
NBC4 Investigates’ requested records from the city’s Building and Zoning Services department for the building at the corner of 20th and E. Long streets, and found that while inspectors and code enforcement have visited the building in recent years, there are no documented clues that the structure would fail.
Douaa Wadi lives two doors down from the building. She said she was working from home when the building began to crumble.
She’s only lived in the neighborhood since March but would often talk to longtime Bronzeville residents when she’d stop by the convenience store on the building’s first floor.
“It’s nice to see people who have lived here for a really long time still living here, and sharing their take on the history of the neighborhood,” she said.
Monday’s collapse was not just a surprise to Wadi.
“We happened to have a building inspector conducting an inspection next door, and he heard the bricks starting to fall and called the right people,” said Anthony Celebrezze, the deputy director of Building and Zoning Services. “We got the fire department out here and got our folks out here to look at it. As that was happening, the walls continued to deteriorate and fall down.”
Video captured by a nearby surveillance camera operated by the Columbus Division of Police shows firefighters running away from a cloud of dust and debris as more of the building collapsed while they were on the scene.
Records kept by BZS and provided to NBC4 Investigates reveal violations for parking, solid waste and graphics between 2018 and 2020, but no structural issues at 1032 E. Long St.
On what caused the collapse, Celebrezze said, “We probably will never know, because there was no way of sending anybody in once it had collapsed, because there was so much debris that was waiting to fall.”
One unconfirmed possibility, however, is water leakage.
“A number of the most recent failures are because there was a vacant floor, water got in there and started loosening the mortar, loosening the wood up, and we had a wall failure,” Celebrezze said.
Aside from the convenience store on the ground level, Celebrezze said the only other occupant was the building’s owner, who, also to Wadi’s surprise, lived on the third floor.
“I thought it was abandoned. I’m glad he wasn’t home,” she said.
Perceptions like Wadi’s are important, Celebrezze said, because the only way for the city to know if a building may be unsafe, is for people to report it.
“The word for people to think about is ‘severe,’” he said. “If there are bricks falling down, that’s severe. If there are large cracks and sagging walls inside or outside, give 311 a call and we’ll figure out – we’ll come out and look at it and do at least some sort of investigation.”
Inspectors are not allowed to enter a building unless they’re invited by a tenant or the owner, but there are some things you can inspect yourself, inside your home. Celebrezze said the biggest clues that something’s wrong are floors changing pitch, and severe cracks in drywall.