Insurance, fire investigation delays Rensselaer Falls building cleanup

April 6: RENSSELAER FALLS: Progress is being made on the cleanup of the fire-destroyed building on the corner of Main and Rensselaer streets.

Code Enforcement Officer Timothy C. Tuttle said owner Kevin Reynolds is working through complicated issues with insurance, fire investigations and environmental concerns.

The 209 Rensselaer St. building, which housed 11 people when it burned Feb. 26, has been leveled, but the wreckage cannot be removed until asbestos testing is complete, Tuttle said.

Mr Tuttle said the building was pushed under a state of emergency which allowed the work to be done before asbestos tests were carried out. The danger of a wall collapsing and injuring a bystander or damaging property outweighed environmental concerns, he said.

According to Mr. Tuttle, the insurance has been delayed due to the ongoing fire investigation and Mr. Reynolds hopes the insurance money will help pay for asbestos testing, which can be expensive.

In March, following a special meeting of the village board of directors, Mr. Tuttle was given the go-ahead to issue a notice of violation and a notice of condemnation.

Reynolds had 30 days to show any progress and has a total of 12 months to clean up the property, according to Tuttle.

By working with the insurance company and discussing plans with Mr. Tuttle, Mr. Reynolds is showing progress.

Mr. Tuttle said that Mr. Reynolds, who has owned the property for more than 25 years, plans to rebuild on the property but has not determined what he will build.

During a board meeting Monday, Rensselaer Falls Mayor Michael S. Hammond said the destruction of the building has taken a toll on the village.

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There were six units in the building, all on the town’s sewer system, he said.

The bricks from the collapsed walls have some value, Tuttle said, and Reynolds is eager to sell them. But he can’t do it until the asbestos tests are complete. While the bricks themselves should be fine, it is the mortar attached to the bricks that possibly contains asbestos.

People shouldn’t be removing bricks from private property, Tuttle said.

This is not the first time fire has altered the appearance of the small town on the Oswegatchie River. According to historians Robert Poor and Susan Huntley, the town suffered from a series of fires over 55 years.

On August 24, 1894, a random spark from a blacksmith’s anvil ignited a fire that destroyed 14 buildings and required the Ogdensburg Fire Department to use a special train to bring their equipment to the scene.

On October 2, 1902, the Phoenix Bent Works built by M. W. Spaulding burned down.

On February 2, 1903, historians report, the Union Free School building, built in 1883 of wood, was destroyed in less than an hour. The students were forced to jump from the second floor of the building to escape the fire.

On May 20, 1903, a fire in the Commercial House barn forced Ogdensburg to reload a special train. Ogdensburg firefighters reportedly made the 13-mile trip in exactly 16 minutes.