Officials concerned about safety

Mall fire raises burning issue

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2000

What goes up -- in flames -- must come down. That's what the city of Soldotna has said about the Anchor Plaza strip mall that burned in an electrical fire three weeks ago.

The building has been condemned, said Soldotna Building Official Dick Bower, but insurance company hold-ups, decisions that need to be made by the building's owners and other factors are keeping the demolition and rebuilding process from beginning.

"It is a hazardous building," Bower said. "We've tried to work with the parties involved and not get cranky with them, but it is fast approaching the point where we will make some strong suggestions that they get with the program and at least get it cleaned up enough to make it a safe area."

If the building continues to sit, Bowers said, an abatement process will begin, although he doubted it would come to that.

Blazy Construction has the contract on the building and has been working on the safety issue. A security guard was posted outside the building after the fire, until tenants could be led in to retrieve any equipment or possessions that had survived the blaze. Next, Blazy erected a fence to keep people out, but "like they say, it's kind of like a lock on a door -- it only keeps the honest people out, and hopefully everybody's honest." said Randall Nelson, Blazy Construction's projects manager.

"There's nothing in there to salvage or steal or anything," Nelson said. "It's basically just a shell, not a treasure hunting island. There are items that are still hanging overhead and the roof is coming down. It's certainly not a safe structure to be in by any means."

The building is owned by Beezsinc, a partnership of Drs. Theodore Barton and Bobbie Behrens, and housed the gynecology and obstetric practices of the two, the family medical practices of Marguerite A. McIntosh and John Standerfer, the podiatry practice of Harry Cotler, an Internal Revenue Service field office, a Special Olympics office and Peninsula Internet.

These businesses have relocated since the fire, and Beezsinc is hoping to rebuild and reopen the facility as soon as possible, said Susan Anderson, a broker from Choice Realty.

"They're going to rebuild just as soon as possible," Anderson said. "They're anxious to get going on the demolition and rebuild."

But until a settlement can be reached with Beezsinc's insurance company, plans for rebuilding are at a standstill.

"They have to come to some sort of a settlement with the insurance company," Anderson said. "It's kind of like wrecking a car -- are they going to total it out or are they going to replace it? Until they decide that, the plans are kind of up in the air."

According to Nelson, Blazy plans to start some demolition work, clearing out the east end of the building, as early as next week. Once the insurance issues have been settled, it will have to decided how much of the building will come down.

"It is possible to salvage part of the building," Bowers said. "But it will have to be brought up to today's code."

Bowers estimated the building to be 15 years old. So there are additional bracing, earthquake and seismic, and roof snow-load requirements that have come into effect, he said. Then there is the issue of the improperly installed heat tape, which started the fire in the first place. The remaining part of the building would have to be inspected to make sure a similar situation would not occur.

"That's where they'll have to decide if they want to rebuild and bring everything up to code or raze the building and start from scratch," Bowers said.

Nelson also wasn't sure how much of the building would remain.

"Since there is 30 to 35 percent left, it makes it kind of a teeter-totter thing to decide which way you want to go, with all factors considered," Nelson said.

Whether the building is repaired or rebuilt from scratch, the owners are planning on using a similar design, Nelson said. Some elements might be changed, especially to be brought up to code, but the square footage and original foundation would remain the same.

If work begins soon, the building could be ready for occupancy by the first of the year, depending on whether any of the existing structure is saved, Nelson said.

"Everybody's really hoping it's ready by Christmas," Nelson said. "That's what everyone would like, but it's not etched in stone."

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