Wayne Thomas of Eastpoint escaped possible serious injury when a row of ornamental bricks cascaded 15 feet from Apalachicola’s new public restrooms to land at his feet Friday afternoon.
Witnesses said they were startled by a loud noise at around 4 p.m. when about 50 bricks slid from atop a sheet of metal at the corner of the building and crashed to the parking lot below.
Thomas, among a group of Habitat for Humanity volunteers preparing for the annual Mardi Gras parade and street party, said he was standing about two feet from the bricks when they fell, and suffered only a scraped elbow.
The bricks were an ornamental parapet cap on the roof of the new public restrooms on Commerce Street just off Avenue E. The bathrooms initially opened in time for Labor Day last year, but soon closed temporarily due to plumbing problems before reopening in mid-October.
City Administrator Betty Taylor Webb and Code Enforcement Officer Wilbur Bellew responded quickly after being notified the bricks had fallen. They arrived on the scene within minutes and immediately taped off another corner of the building where cracks were visible in the mortar of the brick ornamentation.
Webb summoned William Poloronis, owner of Poloronis Construction, contractor on the project. Using a ladder and the bucket of an earthmover, he and an assistant removed the brickwork from two additional corners of the roof so that caution tape would not be present for the evening celebration. The parapet on the front left hand corner of the bathrooms did not appear to be cracked and has not yet been removed.
Webb speculated it was possible water had seeped under the mortar during last week’s freezing rain. The water expanded when it froze and may have cracked the mortar, rendering the bricks unstable.
Funding for the project came from a Community Development Block Grant for community revitalization, obtained through the efforts of Deborah Belcher, the city’s grant writer. The project cost $325,000 including a $10,000 grant for architectural services from the Tourist Development Council.
Architect Mark Tarmey, with 4M Design Group, served as a sub consultant for Jim Waddell, of Inovia, the project’s prime consultant.
In an interview Monday, Waddell said he was, “Investigating the matter and will be making a recommendation to the city as soon possible. The architect of record is also involved in the investigation.
“There are a number of things to look into, including the method the contractor used to place the brick on the parapet cap,” he said. “The weather may have been a factor in precipitating the incident. All concerned are very fortunate that nobody was injured.”
Waddell said he is reviewing the project history and construction file before making a recommendation.
In an interview last fall, Tarmey spoke of his firm having designed a half-dozen public restrooms, including a few on the interstate. “We’ve learned the need to mute the colors and use durable materials designed to help the city maintain the public restroom over its life span,” he said. “I’m a big believer in the way things were done. It (this project) was an investment, that the city was proud of its heritage and had some sense of permanence.”
To install the extensive brickwork, done of wood mold, not wire cut, brick from South Georgia, Poloronis hired Tinker and Tinker Masonry of Panacea.
Webb said the building is under warranty and that it is insured so there will be no additional cost to the city.
“We’re looking into exactly what happened,” said Mayor Van Johnson. “We have called the contractor in.”