Photo: The condominium building at 125 Trapelo Rd. evacuated Friday afternoon, Aug. 13 due to structural issues.
A seven floor 40-unit residential building in Belmont’s Cushing Square was evacuated at 1 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 13 after a cautionary inspection Thursday discovered large cracks in apartments on the top two floors that made the 58-year-old apartment block structurally unsafe for occupancy.
The brick and mortar building at 125 Trapelo Rd. across from the newly constructed Bradford apartments is not a threat to fall or see significant portions fall away, said Glenn Clancy, Belmont’s town engineer who was at the scene along with Belmont police and fire and several broadcast crews and three new helicopters overhead.
“But it’s not ready for residents to return,” said Clancy, saying that two independent building inspectors will be on the site Monday, Aug. 16, to begin a survey of the structural integrity of the site. “It will be up to those engineers to determine if the structure is safe for occupancy,” said Clancy, who will sign off on any new certificate of occupancy.
The Trapelo Road evacuation comes less than two months after the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida killing 98 residents. “[The Florida] event is one reason we are proceeding with extra caution here,” said Clancy.
The inspection by a Maine-based firm Thursday was prompted by a resident of the top floor who found large cracks in the walls and ceiling and alerted the landlord, said Clancy. The structural engineer observed the breaks and wrote a report to the building’s management company, Great North Property Management of Exeter, NH.
Clancy said the engineer told him she suspected the large number of cellular antennas and wireless electronic equipment on the roof to be the likely cause of the damage.
40 residents evacuated
When the severity of the report was known on Friday, the management company notified the town and Belmont Police and Fire responded. ”Firefighters searched the entire building and evacuated at least 40 residents home at the time of the incident,” said Belmont Fire Chief David DeStefano. “The natural gas service to the building was shut by National Grid and it was ascertained from the engineering firm that there was no risk to nearby buildings,” he said
According to assessors records, the building was completed in 1963 and at the time was the largest residential premises in town. It was bought in 2015 for $5,275,000 by 125 Trapelo LCC located on Clarendon Street in Boston. Town officials said about 70 people live at 125 Trapelo.
With the building closed for at least the weekend and likely longer, the concerns of town and state officials turned to the residents who were suddenly made homeless during a mid-August heatwave.
Pearl Risberg and Calvin Heimberg moved into their apartment on Thursday and were out of the building early Friday only to arrive back to their new home to find the door blocked by Belmont firefighters.
”Everything looked great when we moved in so we’re a little bummed,” said Risberg.
Another resident who thought it best not to give his name was watching Netflix on his couch on his day off when someone knocked on his door saying they were from Belmont Fire. “They told me there was a problem with the structure and we need to evacuate.” He would relocate with the other residents across Trapelo Road, some staying inside the lobby of the Bradford to get out of the 90 degree heat to hear updates from Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac.
“I’ll be staying with a friend for tonight, but after that … “, he said.
But for several residents new to the area or whose families are overseas, the prospects of finding a place to relocate to did not appear promising. The lucky ones were able to grab plastic bags filled with clothes or suitcases with computers and documentation. Several were carrying hot and scared pets wondering where they would be going. By 5 p.m., the MBTA supplied a bus to allow residents a chance to rest in an air conditioned space.
The Red Cross arrived only to determine the building was not closed due to a “natural disaster” before leaving.
The one thing in common with all the residents was their collective scorn for the property management firm.
”It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable. It’s been six hours and no-one has told us anything,” said one resident who was traveling with her cat, Oreo. “This is not our fault. [Great North] should be working with us but they are doing nothing.”
As the afternoon turned to evening, Great North’s on-site representative, senior property manager Robert Linney, would not provide the residents any information on alternative housing or compensation for other lodgings. Linney referred all inquires to the main office in New Hampshire. By 7 p.m., Belmont Police were leading some residents into building to retrieve computers and clothes they would need for the weekend.
State Rep. Dave Rogers arrived at 3 p.m. and coordinated with assistant town manager Jon Marshall, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the Salvation Army to provide shelter for the newly homeless. By 11 p.m., those remaining took the bus to a hotel to spend at least one night indoors.
“There is a core group that really needs help,” said Rogers. “There are long term issues with the building but right now we just want to solve the short term and that’s getting people a place to stay.”