Two local utility providers have been working diligently to implement temporary and permanent solutions to restore electrical and natural gas service to businesses affected by the fire at the historic Masonic Temple last Thursday.
Some buildings, such as the Muskingum County Courthouse, have already been reconnected to electric service while others that house businesses like the Old Market House Inn and law firm Kincaid, Taylor & Geyer are expected to see the restoration of electricity and gas in the immediate future, according to officials.
Still other buildings, such as the Muskingum County Jail, the Law Administration Building and the Image Computing Solutions location, will not see services return until the Masonic Temple is razed to the ground. at least three floors, which will significantly reduce the current “danger zone”. if the building unexpectedly falls, hitting and causing damage to nearby buildings.
This area also resulted in the closure of North 4th Street, between Main Street and Market Street, with cautionary tape and concrete barriers to prevent pedestrians and vehicles from entering the potential impact area.
The fire, which began late Thursday evening, Jan. 6, destroyed one of the oldest and most expensive structures in the community. Inside, it had housed numerous businesses and dozens of artists’ studios, arguably one of the best downtown buildings for fostering economic development and a culture of desire to be located in the heart of the city. With affordable rents, open spaces were rarely available.
The fire, however, not only destroyed the building itself and many irreplaceable works within it, it endangered other nearby structures. Especially, Muskingum County jail had to be evacuated and the detainees are still housed elsewhere. While firefighters from both city and county stations were able to stop the blaze from spreading, the weakened structure placed an unacceptable risk to others around it, forcing authorities to maintain the established “danger zone”.
Sheriff Matt Lutz said the jail cannot resume inmate housing until the Masonic Temple is razed to the ground where it poses no threat to those held inside. Due to the location of equipment and lines, American Electric Power of Ohio (AEP) and Columbia Gas of Ohio said they could not restore service to the jail and other nearby structures until the building historic 7-story building was not razed. .
These buildings also include Schimmel Fitness to the west of the Masonic Temple, the County Law Administrative Building to the southeast, and Image Computer Solutions to the north. Other additional structures could be impacted by falling debris and dust, officials have previously said, including Muskingum County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Jeff Jadwin.
While the goal was for the building to be razed just days after it burned down, no company was willing to take on the job. Due to the Masonic Temple’s proximity to other structures and its unusual height, without nearby owners signing habitability hesitations, the risk is simply too great for many to take. Muskingum County Commissioners have previously made it clear they do not intend to sign such a waiver which would put local ratepayers at risk for any damage to their buildings from a less than ideal collapse.
Ultimately, the owners of the Masonic temple, as well as their insurance, will be responsible for paying for this work. The building had no fire extinguishing system.
The difficulty, however, is that such a process could take weeks or months, potentially leaving several businesses and county offices effectively closed to business.
Zanesville Mayor Don Mason said concrete blocks had to be placed at intersections because drivers were ignoring warning tape and driving on closed streets in and around the collapse zone.
“A lot of work can’t happen until the building is below three stories and of course it’s still standing,” Mason remarked. “Even though we’d like things to be done in an hour like on TV, it literally takes the better part of a week, it’s a lot more complex than we initially thought.”
City Hall remained open to accept payments, such as utilities and taxes, Mason added.
In the meantime, many county offices had to be moved. The county commissioners work from the EMA office along Adamsville Road, the treasurer’s office works from the sheriff’s office along East Pike and the court had to be moved to the Hixson building along 5th Street downtown. A full list can be found by reading: relocation of county offices due to fire
With power restored to the courthouse, commissioners hope to return temporarily after the long weekend. Other departments and offices will also slowly come back if everything works as planned.
Erica Chronaberry, communications specialist for Columbia Gas of Ohio, said there was a plan to restore service, but declined to provide further details. Mason identified Columbia Gas, working alongside Miller Pipeline, as the reason for several downtown road closures during the laying of a new pipeline.
A larger gas pipeline passing close to an affected street was severed to avoid any problems during the dismantling of the Masonic Temple and a new, smaller line was laid to reconnect the businesses affected by this disconnection.
Chronaberry asked Y-City News not to reveal the location of these existing or new lines due to national security concerns. We agreed, however, that construction may be visible at many points downtown.
AEP has installed wooden power poles in many locations downtown in an effort to reconnect buildings that were previously or are currently without electricity.
New roads had to be established due to the fact that the main transmission lines ran along the east and south sides of the Masonic Temple.
Columbia Gas and AEP officials have repeatedly expressed in interviews that safety is their number one priority while working to restore service.