KULPMONT - The roof on a former factory at 13th and Oak streets collapsed Friday, and officials are worried they'll be stuck with another hefty demolition bill.

An excavator was tearing away teetering portions of the former Eagle Sign Co. throughout the day Friday and is expected back today.

"We are hoping there is some emergency blight money available, because this could be expensive," Councilman Joe Winhofer said at the scene Friday morning.

Code Enforcement Officer Russ Moroz said it's reminiscent of the case of David Dubbs' Chestnut Street home, which was gutted by fire and razed by the borough because it posed a danger. Dubbs wasn't insured and had no means to pay for the cleanup, so citations piled up to $83,000. He finally gave in to the borough's request to sign over the property.

"I spoke with the owner this morning and he is claiming he has no money and will be declaring bankruptcy," Moroz said of the Eagle building. "We could be on the hook for this one."

'Wall of shame' owner

The two-story cinder-block building, which takes up half of a block along 13th Street between Oak (an alley) and Chestnut (Route 61) streets, has been home to a number of businesses besides the sign company. It was a bowling alley, garage, bike shop and knick-knack store.

Moroz reported the building and lot are owned by Thomas Valeiko, of Commack. N.Y., who owns several properties in the borough and had once appeared on Coal Township's "Wall of Shame" for dilapidated properties.

Neighbors reported hearing a crash about 5 a.m. and then, at dawn, seeing about half of the roof had collapsed into the structure. Some blocks from a side wall fell onto a box truck parked beside the building, smashing the windshield and denting the roof of the cab and box. The truck is also believed to be owned by Valeiko.

For short periods, traffic was rerouted off Route 61 between 12th and 13th streets to allow room for fire apparatus and an excavator.

Mayor Bernie Novakoski and several borough council members met with Shamokin contractor Robert Gusick at the scene and agreed to a contract to have him take down the second story.

"We should be OK with the first floor because that roof is concrete and steel beams," said Winhofer, who once worked in the building. "We just want to get that the top down for safety purposes."

Tensions rise

Before Gusick had his equipment at the scene, Benjamin Britton arrived, hoping to remove the boat and trailer he had parked beside the building on Oak Street.

"If the building comes down on my boat, who is going to pay for that?" Britton said to nearby firefighters.

"Listen, right now, we are checking into it and my concern is your safety ... if more of this building comes down," responded Ray Siko, assistant borough fire chief. "Hold on one second."

After a few minutes, Britton pulled the boat and trailer, with two flat tires, out of the lot and down Oak Street to safety.

Concern for neighbors

No damage was apparent on the Chestnut Street side of the building, but the wall was bowing out on the Oak Street side. With wind and rain in the forecast, officials were worried about the back roof collapsing further and sending walls crashing onto the street or onto adjacent houses and yards.

Around noon, work began on the emergency demolition. Before Gusick began using the excavator, he, rescue workers and borough officials placed sheets of plywood on the roof of a neighboring garage to prevent damage.

A borough backhoe was brought in to remove debris from the alley after the portion facing Oak Street was down. Gusick then maneuvered the excavator into the alley and was careful to push the wall back into the collapsed building instead of into a neighboring garage and yard.

Novakoski said crews will be back today to tear down the rest of the second floor.

"It's a safety hazard. We might as well tear it down now, rather than take the time to condemn it and have it sit here doing nothing," Novakoski said. "We have to protect those affected by this."

The recommendation for a second day of work came from Gusick, Moroz said.

"What they are looking to do is create a bit of a landing for their equipment to bring down the rest of the wall into the building.

Neighbor out for night

Moroz said the owner of a neighboring structure, Stacy Politza, 1265 Chestnut St., was asked to leave her home for the night as a precaution. He said she'd be staying with family overnight.

"It should only take one day to get this wall down safely and keep the other homes from suffering any damage," Moroz said.

Novakoski said a number of vacant buildings could meet the same fate soon.

"There are several buildings that are a hazard in Kulpmont," Novakoski said. "It's about time that we put pressure on these building owners to get their properties either cleaned up or torn down."

(Staff member Mike Staugaitis contributed to this report.)Bob "Beans" Gusick uses his excavator to bring down the facade of the former Eagle Sign Company facing Oak Street down in Kulpmont.

(2/21/14)