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Historic buildings facade fails, repair work to begin today

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - Bricks falling from the upper left hand corner of the Muckle Buildings facade triggered an evacuation of adjacent apartments May 6. The upper parapet near Grace's Rivertown Antiques will be dismantled, with work expected to begin May 10.Age, weather and overdue maintenance led to the partial crumbling of a building's facade in Olde Town St. Helens May 6.

The historic Muckle Building's owner, Carl Coffman, hopes to have the problem areas fixed so residents of adjacent apartments who were evacuated when the facade began to crumble can return to their homes. No one was injured and the Muckle Building has long been vacant, but there were concerns it could collapse so tenants at 315 Strand St. were evacuated as a precaution. They have been staying at a temporary shelter at the Plymouth Presbyterian Church in St. Helens ever since.

Coffman, the owner of Norway Development, has renovated other historic structures in Medford and Portland. He swapped vacant land near Roseburg for the Muckle Building at 31 Cowlitz St., in 2011. He had planned to put off renovating until he had more time.

Now, faced with structural issues, he said, "We're just starting to remodel a little earlier."

"It's been sitting there for 10 years like that, empty," said Brian Don, building official for the city of St. Helens. He explained that while the bricks might last forever, the mortar holding them together deteriorates over time.

"It basically turns into sand and starts blowing away," Don said. "Then nothing's holding the bricks there. They're just stacked there."

All buildings move in strong winds, but as they age, they can become less flexible and that's when there are problems, he added. He believes strong winds contributed to the recent incident.

In addition to the pile of bricks from the facade outside, Coffman's engineer found fallen brick inside the building. The engineer, who also worked for the building's previous owner, is examining pictures he took about six years ago to see if cracks in the walls present then have widened in the intervening years, Don said.

Engineers have recommended dismantling the upper parapet closest to the building that houses Grace's Rivertown Antiques. While this work is being done, Coffman plans to take care of other maintenance issues with the building. Work is expected to begin today and continue for approximately a week.

City Planner Jacob Graichen said Coffman has applied for several land use and building permits for the Muckle Building. Coffman says he hopes to build condominiums. The building is not listed on local or federal historic landmark lists, but is a part of the federally recognized historic district of Olde Towne St. Helens. Under this designation, it is considered a contributing secondary building, meaning it has historical features and was built after the fire that devastated the city in the early 1900s.