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Public Post is a community reporting initiative using digital tools to report on cities and towns across Vermont.Public Post is the only resource that lets you browse and search documents across dozens of Vermont municipal websites in one place.Follow reporter Amy Kolb Noyes and #PublicPost on Twitter and read news from the Post below.

Morrisville Streets Closed Over Fear Of Building Collapse

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Amy Kolb Noyes
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VPR
Norm Nepveu stands in the middle of Portland Street looking at his downtown Morrisville building on Monday. At the advice of a structural engineer, the town closed two roads when a foundation wall collapsed in Nepveu's vacant building.

Traffic is flowing through Morrisville village again, after a collapsed wall in a vacant building caused a three-day detour. But the detour hurt local business and some people in town say the building has to go.

There was a lot of excitement in downtown Morrisville on Monday, after a stone foundation wall collapsed in the old Norm’s Furniture building, trapping building owner Norm Nepveu’s adult son in the rubble.

A police officer freed David Nepveu, who walked away uninjured, but town officials were afraid that if the front foundation wall continued to collapse, the building could fall into the street. In response, the fire department closed Portland and Hutchins Streets until a structural engineer could assess the damage.

Town Administrator Dan Lindley says the town’s actions were justified.

"He inspected the building and deemed the building to be unsafe," Lindley says of the engineer. "At that point in time, and only at that point in time, did we go through the extra-ordinary precaution of shutting down Portland Street and Hutchins Street."

On Tuesday, Lindley said a state fire and safety inspector reviewed the situation and confirmed the building was not safe.

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Although Norm Nepveu says he and his son are fixing up their circa 1895 building, others in town say the building needs to be torn down.

"So we have kept Portland Street closed, and we had to evacuate the building across the street as well," Lindley explained.

By mid-week, work was completed to shore up the building’s front wall and traffic was flowing again. Lindley says, there’s more work to be done.

"There’s also a plan to permanently repair (the building,)" says Lindley. "These are just temporary repairs so we can eliminate the public safety hazard."

The normally bustling Portland Street was eerily quiet for a few days as traffic was re-routed around the main drag. Local restaurant and shop owner Jimmy Goldsmith said business was down dramatically.

"There’s no place to park in town. The streets are closed," Goldsmith said on Wednesday. "Some people are walking on the streets today, but nobody’s going into any of these businesses. The town is effectively closed."

Jamie and Ross Berry own a gallery next door to the old Norm’s Furniture building. Jamie says its been a nerve wracking week.

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Ross and Jamie Berry were happy to help one customer who made his way to The Space gallery on Wednesday, despite the street being closed to traffic.

"I was a little nervous yesterday, with the road being closed, thinking it might fall over," Jamie commented. And she added she's wasn't feeling any better about the situation on Wednesday.

Morristown Administrator Dan Lindley says he understands the week was hard on the downtown businesses. But he says there isn’t much the town can do because Vermont towns don’t have the authority to condemn private property without a court order.

"There are very, very limited legal actions that a town can take without help from a judge to force a property owner, or anybody in the state of Vermont, to really take action on a building," says Lindley. "And I know it’s frustrating. If there’s any frustration from us, it’s really frustrating for town staff, that people come to and go, 'Do this, do this, do this.' And there’s just really not a lot we can do sometimes, without the help of a judge."

The Norm’s Furniture building has been vacant for at least 15 years. Two years ago, knowing there wasn’t a lot the town could do to force the owner to repair the building, the town tried to purchase the property. Officials wanted to take down the building and use the site for town offices. However, shortly before the vote, Norm Nepveu took his property off the market.

That’s when the Nepveus decided to renovate the building. And Norm Nepveu said they were reinforcing the front foundation wall when it collapsed on Monday.

"Age caught up with the cement; the mortar was collapsing," says Nepveu. "And we were in the process ... of doing the repairs and getting it fixed. And we’re a day late and a dollar short."

Nepveu says he thought the collapse was “no big deal.” And he calls the street closure a “Chicken Little” reaction.

"They should have realized that the building wasn’t going to fall," Nepveu says of the town. "This was a rockslide that happened, basically. And the engineers are satisfied (that) with the new concrete walls going up, there’ll be no problem."

Although the crumbling wall has been reinforced and the streets of Morrisville are back open, Morristown Administrator Dan Lindley says the town will press for a Jan. 1 deadline to have permanent repairs completed.

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