For five or six weeks now, people waiting to see the burned-out Heritage Building in downtown Auburn come down have been cooling their heels.
Waiting for Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to provide Harbro Emergency Services and Restoration the power it needs to start removing asbestos from the nearly 100-year-old building, a task that must be wrapped up before it can start tearing it down in earnest.
Waiting with dwindling patience.
“They need temporary power to power saws, and the mechanical equipment they need to tear the building down,” said Jeff Tate, interim planning director for the City of Auburn. “It’s not because the owner or the City or the contractor doesn’t want to do anything – it’s all PSE.”
The first of two contractors owner Melina Lin hired to look at her building issued an asbestos report months ago, which indicated the presence of asbestos-carrying materials. But because of this delay, the City has yet to issue the first permit to Harbro for this preliminary phase of demolition or for the permits the contractor has to have to remove the water meter and disconnect water service. It also has to have a construction permit to complete some excavation work in the public right of way.
“The reason demolition is in two phases is because the asbestos part they can get going almost right away. It’s delicate work; it’s surgical, and it’s labor intensive,” Tate said recently. “You go into the building and start removing the pipes that have asbestos coating on them, and you bag them up and bring them out of the building.
“The building demolition is more complex. There’s more moving parts to it about getting heavy equipment across the public sidewalks and making sure the street lights are down because they are so close to the building,” Tate said. “There’s just a bunch of logistical things they have to do for the building demolition. We said, ‘Why not split it in two so you can start the asbestos removal while they are arranging the other things?”
On Dec. 26, 2017, fire broke out in the building’s laundry room.
By the time the Valley Regional Fire Authority and other local fire agencies called in to help had extinguished the fire, the second floor of the historic building was gutted, and its occupants and all of the ground-floor businesses were homeless.
Most of the occupants have since found new housing, and some of the businesses, like Top Nails, have set up shop elsewhere.
Lin has listed the property for sale.