Press-Republican

January 19, 2011

Hubbard Hall deemed public danger

Cause still under investigation

KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

ELIZABETHTOWN — A week after a fire tore through historic Hubbard Hall, the cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

County and state fire investigators have determined the structure is too dangerous to enter and are awaiting removal of the charred pieces to finish their work.

COLLAPSE POSSIBLE

Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said the partially collapsed slate roof, its support structure and weight-bearing walls are damaged throughout the building

"All that weight is now down onto the first and second floor. If you move things, you could have a collapse. We know the floor had to be reinforced several years ago, and we don't know the condition of supports underneath."

The next option is for the owner's insurance company to move in with heavy equipment and start taking what is left of a sprawling, three-story building apart in pieces.

"It is structurally too unsound for anybody to go in and start digging or moving anything," Jaquish said Tuesday.

"We would have to have heavy crane equipment to take it down layer by layer, and the county is not going to do that, at this point.

"The next option was for the owner's insurance company to undertake the investigation. And apparently they don't want to pay for the heavy equipment. It's their decision, not ours."

The building has been posted by the Town of Elizabethtown Code Enforcement Office, pending an order by the Town Council to require the owner to take it down and remove the debris.

CAUSE UNDETERMINED

Thus far, investigators have not determined the cause of the fire.

"At some point, they will be taking the building down, and when they do that, we will send someone in," Jaquish said.

"It could be accidental or it could be deliberate, we don't know," he said of the cause. "We're still conducting an investigation, doing the normal background checks we usually do.

"I'm sure the insurance company will take a statement from the owner. We'll wait until the building has to be taken down by a contractor, and we'll be there when they do it."

BACK TAXES OWED

Essex County tax records indicate the owner, Jeffrey M. Langford, has not paid taxes on the Hubbard Hall property since April 24, 2006.

Five consecutive years remain unpaid, totaling $42,023 owed.

The building was assessed for $197,600 in 2006, the last year taxes were paid.

In 2007, according to Essex County's tax database, the assessment for Hubbard Hall rose to $254,300; in 2008, to $328,000; and in 2009, to $346,000.

Hubbard Hall was for sale at the time of the fire, listed at $329,000.

Langford lives out of state. Realtors said he has a residence in Arroyo Grande, Calif., though no phone number is listed for him there. The Press-Republican has been unable to contact him.

Darleen March, broker at Adirondack Country Realty, where the property was listed, said Langford is coming to Elizabethtown this week.

"I imagine he has to see it first, then he has to determine whether it becomes an empty lot or if he's going to rebuild."

NEW SITES

Elizabethtown Town Supervisor Noel Merrihew has been helping coordinate a community effort to find space for some eight businesses displaced by the fire.

Adequate office space is available in Elizabethtown, he said, and most businesses have begun the process of relocation.

Ophthalmologist Dr. Duncan Winter and his new partner, Dr. Daniel Litwicki, will continue to service the Elizabethtown area, his business manager Delphine Winter said via e-mail.

"In the future and during this transition, we can see any scheduled patients in our Saranac Lake or Ticonderoga offices. Patients should call our main office at 891-5189 to schedule alternative appointments."

RECORDS

Business documents from tenant companies and damaged files sit amid charred rubble and scorched beams at Hubbard Hall, awaiting retrieval.

St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center occupied parts of the first and second floor, and employees are waiting for clearance to re-enter.

"The only contact that we've had is with the fire investigator," St. Joseph's spokesman Jim Grant said Tuesday.

"Our records are backed up, and whatever paper records we have were in the basement. We're waiting for the go-ahead to go in and retrieve them."

Jaquish said removal of records is the responsibility of the insurance company.

"I know it's an issue, but it has to be done safely and properly. The insurance company of the building's owner is responsible for making the building safe to the public."

Firefighters were called to a rekindle at Hubbard Hall over the weekend.

The structure may still have hot embers insulated by debris, Jaquish said.

E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: kdedam@pressrepublican.com