Northwest News

Tacoma's Old City Hall watertight, but more work needed

The roof of Tacoma’s Old City Hall building has been fixed well enough to protect the historic structure from winter rain and snow, Tacoma officials said last week.

Meanwhile, Tacoma officials have relaxed deadlines for other repairs to the 121-year-old building to allow the private owner more time to finish the work.

City officials say they’re pleased The Stratford Co. of Seattle has made sealing Old City Hall’s leaky roof a priority. Earlier in the year, the exposed roof on the building’s northeast tower made officials worry that wet winter weather could damage the interior.

Stratford recently finished weatherproofing the building to address those concerns, said Tansy Hayward, Tacoma’s assistant city manager and director of neighborhood and community services.

“The worst in terms of risk of water penetration I think is to some degree behind us,” Hayward said of the property, which is at 625 Commerce Street.

Still, more work lies ahead for Stratford to bring the building into compliance with city code, including installing the metal standing-seam roof approved by Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The city and Stratford agreed to a repairs timeline in September that required the company to complete the roof work by Dec. 20. But last month, the city agreed to extend the deadline to Jan. 10.

A Stratford executive told city officials in an email Tuesday that installation of the final roof materials could begin as early as this weekend.

Now that Stratford has addressed some of the issues with the roof, city officials want them to focus on another concern: securing the building to prevent trespassers, Hayward said.

“Probably at this point in the year, one of the biggest risks is somebody getting inside the building and finding some loose lumber and making a fire,” Hayward said.

A burst pipe that flooded the property three years ago has damaged some of the fire protection between the floors at Old City Hall, making it particularly vulnerable to fire, Hayward said.

The new agreement between Tacoma and Stratford lets the company put off repairs to the building’s fire-sprinkler system, fire alarms and electrical systems until the company can redevelop the building, but only if the company takes other precautions to prevent fires.

Stratford must build internal fencing to block people from entering the building, as well as check the building twice a day to make sure no one has gained access, said Joe Meinecke, spokesman for the Tacoma Fire Department.

The company also must submit monthly log sheets to the fire department confirming it has completed the twice-daily checks and report any trespassing incidents that occur, Meinecke said.

The fire department has requested that the company remove any loose wood pieces or other materials that could be used to start a fire inside the building, Meinecke said.

“Anytime you have a building that is unsecured or doesn’t have fire protection, it just increases the risk,” Meinecke said. “This is just to mitigate that.”

Hayward said city officials expect Stratford to finish building the fencing system inside Old City Hall sometime in the next few weeks.

Should the company not meet the deadlines established in its agreement with the city, Tacoma officials have the authority to enter the building and complete the repairs themselves, recouping the cost of the work by placing a lien on the property.

Stratford bought Old City Hall in 2005 with plans to convert the building into condos. More recently, company officials have said they are looking to turn the property into apartments.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209