Davenport inspection records show complaints, structural issues at collapsed apartment building
An electronic paper trail shows the city was aware of structural problems that needed attention and reveals a sometimes off-hand attitude toward residents' and contractors' concerns about the 80-unit apartment complex that partially collapsed last Sunday.
Before Andrew Wold’s downtown Davenport building partially collapse, and before more than 50 residents were displaced five went missing—two of whom are feared still in the wreckage—red flags abounded in the inspection history of 324 Main Street.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the city of Davenport released a trove of documents including engineering reports and a log of city code complaints that paint a picture of a troubled property and ominous details leading to its collapse. Far from ignoring these warnings, Davenport officials watched over the property in real-time.
One of the earliest in the city’s records release was from the beginning of 2020. The department was preparing to inspect the building and determine whether it met the requirements for a rental permit. The entry was written by a city inspector with the initials “TCH.” That inspector wrote the violations at the property—then owned by Waukee Investments LLC—were severe. TCH also wrote that they brought this to the attention of Davenport’s Director of Development and Neighborhood Services Rich Oswald who said, “I’M NOT AFRAID OF CLOSING THE BUILDING DOWN. GO AHEAD AND PROCEED.”
The inspection did proceed. And the city did not close the building down.
That August, Assistant Fire Marshall Jim Morris reported that bricks were falling from the building’s façade onto the sidewalk below and the wall above the sixth floor was coming loose. City officials met with then-owner Mark Roemer as well as contractors and got to work securing the wall with lumber.
It was at this time the city began to include Wold in emails involving the building’s inspections with the “understanding” that he was in the process of purchasing the property.
The 'nuisance property' on Main
Since 2020, residents were regularly in contact with city code enforcers about issues in the building. Eighteen complained that their heat did not work in the winter, and that their landlord was giving out small space heaters to compensate.
The elevators were out of order. Windows and ceiling tiles were broken. There were five complaints about the hot water being off for days. In 2021, there was a building-wide problem in which residents reported water leaking through the ceiling and down walls all the way to the ground.
The city’s largest enforcement action came in March 2022 in response to Wold’s “overflowing” dumpster. Trash had trash filled the dumpsters and accumulated alongside them. The garbage blocked exits and piled up in the stairwell, according to the code enforcer’s logs. The building would be cited 19 times, wracking up a $4,500 fine.
Wold’s building manager Sarah Tyler did push back on many of these complaints. In one email, the city reached out about a resident complaining there wasn’t heat in his unit.
Tyler responded in an email, “Lol! He has mental health issues. He moved out months ago.” In another email from April 25, Tyler wrote that the building had switched off its heat so it wouldn’t be possible for city code enforcers to inspect whether its heat was working. TCH wrote back, “Heating season is from Sept. 15 through May 15th as per city code. I’ll be at the property at 10:30 am.”
A problem at the western wall
The building’s failure occurred along its western side. Prior to its partial collapse, there were cracked and crumbling bricks visible along the exterior wall. While the city had been keeping an eye on the façade for years, a red flag came from a utility company.
On Feb. 2, Mid-American Energy warned that the condition of the southwest exterior brick wall had reached a dangerous point. Crews said they wouldn’t work in the area until the exterior had been shored up with scaffolding.
By comparison, Wold’s contracted engineering firm said at the time the issues were benign. Select Structural did warn that two east-west beams in the building needed to be bolstered following an “emergency visit” to the site. But with the repairs, the company maintained, the building was safe.
“This engineer determined that this is not an imminent threat to the building or its residents,” Select Structural’s David Valliere wrote in a report released by the city. “But structural repairs will be necessary.”
Valliere advised that rather than doing a lot of work on the exterior all at once, the new bricks should be laid in incremental sections to avoid “local structural failures.” In mid-February scaffolding was installed along the west wall and contractor Bi-State Masonry was working on the prescribed repairs. But by the end of the month, things got worse.
4 days before the fall, Wold's engineer documented that window treatments were showing signs of warping under structural pressure. The bricks used to cover windows bulged outward by several inches. And a large patch of facade appeared ready to fall "imminently." (13/15) pic.twitter.com/ES5MvpOU5e— Zachary Oren Smith (@ZacharyOS) June 1, 2023
“APPEARS THE WEST WALL HAS COLLAPSED INTO THE SCAFFOLDING,” reads a city code enforcer’s log. “WORKERS STATED IT’S GOING TO BE A BIGGER JOB (THAN) WHAT THEY BELIEVED IT TO BE.”
Bi-State Masonry warned that a large and potentially dangerous void had formed under the façade. And clay bricks had fallen between the façade and the interior layer, putting pressure against the façade, pushing it outward. Bi-State Masonry alerted Wold and the city inspector that the job would now cost $50,000—an extra $10,000 on top of the original quote. Work on the western wall stopped.
Four days before now-missing Branden Colvin went to sleep in his fifth-floor apartment, Select Structural Engineering filed another report with the city. The situation on the western wall had deteriorated further.
A large patch of the façade appeared ready to fall “imminently.” Several bricked-over windows were “bulging outwards by several inches and (looked) poised to fall.” One of the east-west beams mentioned in February appeared to be unloading downward force on the exterior wall, visibly warping window finishes.
That day, Wold filed for a building permit to replace 100 linear feet of brick exterior. And on Sunday at around 4:55 p.m. the first reports came of a building collapse at the building.
The Midwest Newsroom's Kavahn Mansouri contributed to this story.