County, Municipal Officials Call for Review of State Fire Code Before DCA Evaluates AvalonBay Plan

Princeton hospital demolition Avalon Bay
The demolition of the former hospital on Witherspoon Street is almost complete.

In the aftermath of a fire that destroyed an AvalonBay apartment complex in North Jersey last week, county and town officials are calling for a review of the state’s uniform construction code prior to the formal evaluation of AvalonBay’s plan to construct 280 housing units on the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street in Princeton.

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes issued a press release about the issue today in response to the five-alarm blaze that destroyed the 408-unit Avalon at Edgewater apartment complex on Jan. 21. The fire was accidentally started by maintenance workers using a blowtorch. The building’s lightweight, wooden construction allowed the flames to spread rapidly, officials have said. Gov. Chris Christie has said current fire codes may need to be re-examined.

“We’re calling for this emergent review in light of the fact that the Edgewater building burned so quickly and so horrifically, despite apparently meeting all current code requirements” Hughes said.

The state Department of Community Affairs is set to review AvalonBay’s plans for its Princeton development to determine whether they meet all the requirements under New Jersey’s Uniform Construction Code.Hughes and  Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said they will ask DCA Commissioner Richard Constable to put a hold on the review of the Witherspoon Street project until state construction codes are re-examined.

“This will be a multi-story building in the middle of Princeton, and we want assurance from the DCA that a development that meets all current building codes will protect residents and neighbors,” Lempert said in the news release. “Prospective residents and neighbors will want assurance that the building will be safe. I’m hoping AvalonBay, which will need to fill the units they build here, will realize this is in their best interest.”

The former hospital buildings on the site are still being demolished. The town issued an update on the project this afternoon.

The removal of additional soil from the area where a heating oil tank was located and the installation of the new monitoring well are complete. The testing firm was not able to obtain a sample due to water no longer being present in the well, and no further testing is required, officials said.

A building permit has been issued allowing for repairs to be completed at the former hospital parking garage. Three sections of the upper deck have been replaced and additional sections are being prepared for replacement Approximately 60 percent of the upper deck is now complete. Repairs will take another six months. No work will be proceeding on the garage during the current snow storm.

The demolition contractor, Yannuzzi Construction, worked on the removal of the seven-story hospital building closest to Witherspoon Street for several days. Due to the work being more tedious than expected, along with some equipment breakdowns, this phase of the building removal process took longer than expected, officials said.  The company completed the removal of the section of  the building closest to Witherspoon Street on Saturday, Jan. 24th. Now that this phase of the work is completed, officials said they anticipate that there will be no further need to close Witherspoon Street to complete the demolition work. The removal of the remaining above ground section of this building is anticipated to be completed within the next 2 weeks, officials said.

Avalon Bay is having staff walk through the neighborhood each day to pick up any litter, officials said. Avalon Bay’s acoustical consultant, Cerami & Associates, continues to be on site monitoring noise levels of the demolition process and parking garage repair work. In addition, the Princeton Health Department is working alongside the Mercer County Division of Public Health to provide additional noise monitoring, officials said. A temporary sound absorbing wall and sound absorbing blankets have been installed adjacent to the area where the upper concrete floor deck of the garage is being removed. Avalon Bay is also investigating ways to mitigate noise created by the jackhammering of concrete from the structural beams of the building, officials said. Work will not continue until acceptable mitigation measures are taken, officials said.

Any noise related complaints should be directed to the Princeton Engineering Department at (609) 921-7077. The Mercer County Health Department and/or the Princeton Health Department will be taking additional noise measurements as the work proceeds.

Three individuals have reported experiencing a metallic taste in their mouth after walking past the hospital demolition site. The Princeton Health Department is working alongside Whitman Environmental Consulting on investigating these cases. If anyone experiences abnormal health symptoms after being in close proximity to the hospital site, they should contact Princeton Engineering Department as soon as possible.

The air quality monitors continue to be checked and have been found not to have exceeded 50 percent of the allowed standard.

One Comment

  1. Good for the Governor Mayor and County Exec to call for a re-examination of the state building codes. It was lucky there were no fatalities in the Edgewater Fire. Princeton should look at the constuction plan carefully for Avalon Bays project here in Princeton. They should also make sure that there is adequate access around all the buildings to get in fire truck ladders that can spray a potential fire from above a 5 story building. We also need to make sure our fire department has the right equipment to fight an Edgewater Avalon Bay Type of fire. It should be stated that in some Avalon Bay fires there has been collateral damage to surrounding houses and vehicles. I urge our leaders to get this right so we are well prepared for any situation that God forbid could occur.

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