Displaced residents of the Blair House Apartments met with local officials outside of the Huntingdon Motor Inn Friday morning to address concerns and provide information, more than a week after fire left them homeless and without any belongings.
“I thought it was important to have this meeting sooner than later, not only to bring you together but to bring the agencies who are involved together so we’re all on the same page,” state Rep. Rich Irvin told the group.
Huntingdon Borough Police Chief Jeff Buckley addressed rumors circulating that law enforcement is preventing residents from entering the building to collect their things.
“We used the state police fire marshal and when their investigation was done, essentially that’s the end of law enforcement involvement. Yes, we are concerned about safety, and people coming and going, but essentially the property has been turned over to the owners. The ownership of the Blair House and owners of the Huntingdon Electric and their insurance company are responsible for that property.”
Buckley added that HPD is continuing an effort to live-trap cats out of the building in partnership with the Huntingdon County Humane Society.
After hearing the former Blair House residents’ frustrations about a lack of communication from the property owners, Stanford Management, Huntingdon Borough manager Chris Stevens was next to speak.
“I would strongly encourage you as residents to have a strong group, get some spokespeople and get some representation to deal with the property owners. That’s going to be your best bet to deal with the management company that owns the building,” he said. “The last I heard on the Blair Building was that the top floor was going to be taken off by hand and they were going to shore up the building to try and save the building.”
Kathy Armillei, director of the Huntingdon County United Way, said she is currently in contact with people from BMZ Law in Huntingdon and MidPenn Legal Services to get the group legal representation.
Representatives from the Huntingdon-Bedford-Fulton Area Agency on Aging, Huntingdon County PRIDE, the Huntingdon County Housing Authority, Juniata Valley Behavioral & Developmental Services and the Huntingdon County Emergency Management Agency were also on hand Friday.
Wendy Melius, director of the Center for Community Action, said there is significant coordination across these agencies to find a quick and effective solution for the displaced residents.
“Behind the scenes, what you don’t see is we’re collaborating to make sure we have as much as we can in place for you and get you you out of the hotel and into some type of safe secure housing as quickly as possible. First and foremost we want to make sure you have safe, affordable housing,” she said.
The Herculean effort to help the displaced residents of Blair House Apartments has been ongoing since the fire occurred May 12.
Auxiliary Captain Charity Bender of the Huntingdon County Salvation Army talked about some of those very efforts.
“I know they’re in the process of working on finding housing,” she said. “But, of course, they have to do their part, but we’re working on that.”
With that in mind, she said many people are calling the Salvation Army to ask if residents need big ticket items, like furniture, but she’s advising them to keep it, as they want to focus on basic needs for right now.
She’s asking that people donate some basic men’s and women’s hygiene items and new undergarments, like underwear and under shirts, if needed.
Bender also noted that Michelle Rupert, who heads up Huntingdon Community Soup Kitchen, is also working to get meals to those still staying at the Huntingdon Motor Inn each day.
“If anyone wants to donate to her that way, they can get a hold of her and let her know,” she said.
The Salvation Army is also taking gift cards as well, and Bender said they can divvy out the cards to those who need them by identifying the need amongst the displaced residents.
Rupert can be reached at 599-4700. For more information on what’s needed with The Salvation Army, contact them at 643-1430.
There are still two GoFundMe pages set up for the victims, including one with Achieving Community Together (ACT) at www.gofundme.com/f/blair-building-fire-response and through Rupert at www.gofundme.com/f/blair-building-fire-victims.
Additionally, ACT, the Salvation Army and the Huntingdon County United Way are teaming up with Huntingdon resident Kathleen Davignon to start the Adopt a Blair House Resident project.
The project includes matching up a willing volunteer with a displaced resident to help with any specific needs at this time.
Visit the Adopt a Blair House Resident on Facebook to learn how to help.
Many are still concerned about the fate of the Blair House Apartments building, and according to Jim Morris, Huntingdon Borough code enforcement officer, the fate of the building is still undetermined.
“As of now, no plans have been made to do anything with the Blair Building because the engineers are still doing their evaluation of the building,” he said.
As to the work that began Thursday on the Huntingdon Electric and Motor Co. building, Morris gave details on what primary safety actions they were doing to the building this week
“This includes the removal of brick from the north side of the building, from between the stair towers (east-west bays two through 10) to prevent brick from falling into the roadway of Route 26 (Penn Street),” said Morris. “They’re also removing debris from east-west bays three through six to facilitate initial fire investigation work (from man-lift) or crane basket”
Some of these things could be done to allow fire investigators to inspect the building.
“This may include all brick be removed in a controlled manner from the north side of the building, between the northeast and northwest stair towers, from the elevation of the windowsills at the second floor to the roof elevation,” said Morris. “Any loose brick must be removed from the exteriors of the northeast and northwest stair towers.
“It may be necessary to remove the roof support beams from the front north-south bay from front wall to first interior column line,” he added. “It may also be necessary to remove the steel beams and columns from the 4th floor front wall from the top of the north wall in east-west bays 2–10 (between stair towers). Hanging debris should also be removed in a controlled manner from east-west bays three through six, from the north wall of the building to the south wall.
These actions will be taken after the primary work is completed, said Morris.
“Additional actions after this will include removal of brick from the west and south sides of the building; additional removal of debris to possibly make portions of building safe to enter for fire investigators; additional removal of debris to possibly make portions of building safe to enter for removal/salvage of industrial equipment and product inventory and, eventually, demolition of the main building.”