WOONSOCKET – For the second time in as many years, the city has cordoned off the Hospital Trust Building in chain-link to safeguard pedestrians from masonry dropping off the facade as structural engineers are called in to get a bead on the landmark's long-term capacity to defy gravity.
Building Official Larry Enright said bricks appear to be falling away from the five-story structure in one of the same spots the owner of the building was ordered to make repairs in 2019.
“It appears like there were some suggestions made by the structural engineer – it doesn't look like they may have followed that completely,” said Enright.
The fence went up Tuesday after some bricks from the upper right corner of the building, close to the parking lot side, were spotted on the ground a day earlier, possibly by someone arriving to work at City Hall, across the street, said Enright.
Yesterday Enright inspected the site with representatives of the same engineering firm who surveyed the damage some two years ago. He's expecting a report addressing unanswered questions about the structural integrity of the building and what should be done to shore up the facade.
Previously the cause of the problem was ultimately traced to the building's flat, leaky roof. Water seeps through the roof, into whatever room it can find between the exterior bricks and the interior walls. The freeze-thaw cycle typical of the season causes that water to expand, increasingly destabilizing the masonry over time.
Built in 1937, the Hospital Trust building, located at 162 Main St., has long been regarded as an architectural gemstone of the old downtown – its tallest and most majestic building. The Classical Revival-style structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features a cavernous, rotunda-like arcade on the ground floor, with generous marble accents and thick Corinthian pillars stretching from the floor to the ceiling. The Main Street facade is polished granite with oversized palladium windows, two stories high.
But the building has lain vacant for more than a decade, and it's looking more like an eyesore than an emerald these days, bearing the scars of boarded-up windows and copious amounts of graffiti in places a window-washer would be hard-pressed to reach.
Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, whose office on the fourth-floor of City Hall offers a birds-eye view of the eye pollution, says the vandalism is despicable.
“No matter how many times public works boards it up, there are times they're climbing on roofs, it's so disrespectful and uncalled for,” she said. “It's shameful is what it is...Unfortunately years of vacancy and destructive people have allowed this to happen.”
The building is owned by Duarte Carreiro of Fall River, but Baldelli-Hunt said she doesn't blame him for the condition of the structure or the fact that it's become such an attractive nuisance. She said Carreiro is cooperative, but his resources for maintenance and security are limited.
Ironically, Baldelli-Hunt said Carreiro advised her very recently that the building, which he's eager to sell, had drawn interest from someone who was eyeing it for conversion into microloft apartments. But the mayor isn't optimistic.
“We've had interest in that building before,” she said. “What happens is the amount of investment that building needs is so significant that generally it does not get to the big oak table for sale.”
For now, the fence is designed to serve as a barrier to keep pedestrians safe from falling debris until the extent of the damage is assessed and how it must be repaired, said Enright.
“Somebody's going to have to make the repair,” he said. “Either temporary or permanent.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo