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Uncovered Structural Engineering Report Declares Bethlehem Steel Administration Building Structurally Sound

The fight is far from over
in Lackawanna to save the Bethlehem Steel Administration building. Although
demolition at the rear of the building started two weeks ago, it has been halted
for the last six days for unknown reasons. So far
only the small chemistry lab, which was a later addition, has been demolished. 
The remainder of the structure remains standing.

Photo credit: David Torke, fixBuffalo

New evidence has come to light that the building is in fact structurally sound despite the
consistent information to the contrary by the owners of the building, Gateway
Trade Center and the mayor of Lackawanna, Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski. Both have
insisted that structural and engineering reports for the building have deemed
it structurally unsound.
Demo - Day 1
Photo credit: David Torke, fixBuffalo

This independent report was withheld from the courts by the City of Lackawanna and the Gateway Trade Center owner, Steven Detwiler. The truth has been revealed thanks to the
perseverance of members in the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG), Meagan Baco, David Torke, Lesley Horowitz, and Dana Saylor. Additionally, they received help from two attorneys who are new to Buffalo, Michael Raleigh and Paul Fusco-Gessick. 
The structural report was obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) request. 

The full structural
report that was completed by Klepper, Hahn, & Hyatt on August 3, 2012
reveals a different story than the owners and the mayor have been
peddling; the building is in fact, structurally sound. To read the full report, click here.

Photo credit: David Torke, fixBuffalo

The report details the existing condition of the building and notes the limitations of the study, but ultimately concluded, “We believe the overall building structure to be sound and not at imminent risk of collapse at this time. The collapsing ceilings and abundance of debris observed in the building gives a false illusion of the floors collapsing.” It went on to say, “the steel beams have surface rust however we did not observe major scaling or failure of the major structural elements” and “we did not observe large areas of the floor or roof structure that appeared to be on the verge of collapse.” Once again, the full report can be read by clicking here.
While there were two other
engineering reports completed that claim the building is not structurally
sound, this report is the only one where the consultants were allowed inside
the building for their review, giving them the most comprehensive look at the
structure that anyone has had thus far.

With this new information in hand, the LIHG (plaintiff) has brought a lawsuit against the owner at Gateway Trade Center, Steven Detweiler (defendant) to halt all demolition until an investigation can take place.

Bethlehem Steel North Office Building - c 1903
Photo credit: David Torke, fixBuffalo

I’ve taken the liberty of assembling the best quotes from Mayor Szymanski that illustrate his ignorance and lack of foresight with this grand cathedral of industry:

“It’s time to move on. I
think that building is a prime representation of this entire region. It used to
be beautiful, it used to be full of work, and now it’s abandoned, unsafe,
unused, unwanted and it’s time we got more progressive. Bring down that
building, bring down the silos and bring down the grain elevators, and let’s
get this city moving,” Szymanski said.

Told that the City of
Buffalo was beginning to find new uses for its grain elevators, Szymanski
answered, “That’s why Buffalo looks like it does.”

He also said he didn’t
believe a building abandoned for about 30 years and without heat could come
back, noting that two structural engineering reports cast doubt on the
building’s future.

“That building has nothing
but sentimental value,” Szymanski said.

lifts stay on demolition
, -Buffalo News 11/27/12

“Pittsburgh adjusted,
Cleveland adjusted. Buffalo has not and if we don’t start making moves and
start getting rid of stuff that is unusable, than we are going to continue to
stay where we’re at, which is nowhere.”

“I am tired of hearing about
our glorious past. I think preservation societies are only trying to preserve
what once was as opposed to moving our region in a positive direction.”

demolition of landmark delayed
, -WIVB 5/22/12

The video below is worth a repost and offers a glimpse at what could have been and could still be if Lackawanna had a forward-thinking mayor. Video courtesy of WGRZ 11/15/12 “Two Communities, Two Fates for Former Bethlehem Steel Sites”

For additional information about the demolition and previous attempts to halt it, check out an article here and here from fixBuffalo. Also,  be sure to check out the I’m Steel Standing website for more updates and history.

Written by Mike Puma

Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

View All Articles by Mike Puma
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