After fire, Pittsfield DPW garage's fate unknown


PITTSFIELD -- It will "take at least a week" before the city decides what it can do with the fire-damaged Department of Public Works garage on West Housatonic Street, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said on Tuesday.

The two-story brick structure was damaged Monday by a fire that began in an attic storage area and spread to the roof. Structural engineers examined the building on Tuesday afternoon, but Bianchi said it will take a while before the city can determine the structure's fate. In the interim, the garage will remain out of service.

"As far as the structural engineers are concerned, I think it would take at least a week for them to come up with an assessment in a report that we can put our arms around," Bianchi said.

The structural engineers will determine if the city can salvage the highway garage, or what the city's options are if the building can't be saved, Bianchi said. Not counting the mechanics who service road equipment on the site, the highway department has 17 full-time employees headquartered on West Housatonic Street, Public Works Superintendent Bruce Collingwood said.

"I guess I should reserve my opinion until I hear from them," said Bianchi, referring to the structural engineers, "but we're going to keep our options open."

Officials could consider razing the city-owned building, and rebuilding on the 6.3-acre site, Bianchi said. Depending on the information it receives, the city may also consider taking down both the garage and a smaller one-story brick office building located behind it. The office building was not damaged by the fire.

"That's a pretty old building, and it's in pretty rough shape," he said. "It may make sense to combine the projects. Once again, it depends on what comes out of our meetings" with the structural engineers.

The city yard complex was opened by the city in 1926. Four of its seven structures -- including the garage and office building -- were constructed between 1926 and 1937, according to city records. City engineers had already limited the attic storage area in the garage to cold storage items because it wasn't considered safe enough to store heavier equipment.

Information gathered by the structural engineers will also help the city determine the extent of its insurance claim with the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, Bianchi said.

"I think they're probably waiting on information from the structural engineers who are working hand-in-hand with the Building Inspector's [office] as well," the mayor said, referring to the MIIA.

Bianchi said highway department functions will still be headquartered at the city yard complex. All of the city's snow removal equipment was stored in the garage, according to Collingwood, but city workers were able to remove it before the fire accelerated. Bianchi said those vehicles will be parked elsewhere on the property for the time being.

"We're looking right now for temporary facilities for the vehicles," Bianchi said. "Depending on what we come up with, there will be a cost associated with that. We believe the insurance coverage will cover that expense."

Snow is also expected in Pittsfield today, but Bianchi said the majority of the city's normal snow removal efforts will continue to be coordinated from the city yard.

"They'll probably have to dispatch out of a different area," Bianchi said.

Monday's fire was caused by combustible materials that were too close to heaters in the garage's attic storage space, according to the Pittsfield Fire Department.

While admitting that he is not a construction expert or an engineer, Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said that he would be concerned about the structural damage that the fire caused to metal trusses that are located in the garage's roof.

"The heat damage up there was tremendous," Czerwinski said. "Steel acts funny" after it's been subjected to intense temperatures in a fire, he added.

Firefighters on Monday also expressed concern for the condition of a communications tower on the garage's roof. Czerwinski said employees of a radio company evaluated the tower on Tuesday morning.

"They were trying to determine if it had shifted," he said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:,
or (413) 496-6224.


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