The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 30, 2013

Fire-damaged school tough to bring down

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstown officials knew razing the former Maple Park School would be a prolonged process.

The vacant structure in the city’s Walnut Grove neighborhood caught fire one year ago today. Its roof, which was more than 90 years old, collapsed during the four-alarm blaze.

The brick-and-stone structure was heavily damaged but remained largely intact.

Dealing with an absentee owner, the fire’s suspicious nature and the city’s need to tear down other blighted buildings first has, as predicted, complicated the removal.

The city’s ultimate goal still remains to get rid of the building, if federal funds can be obtained to cover the cost.

“I know it’s an eyesore, but the danger of it collapsing is pretty much zero,” said Don Michaels, the city’s construction coordinator.

There are no other structures near the old school on Jacoby Street, so the danger is minimal, compared with other dilapidated buildings located next to homes and businesses throughout the city.

“I have buildings that are actually collapsing,” Michaels said. “They have to go first.”

The fire was deemed suspicious because no utility services were connected.

Records indicate the building is owned by Osorio Hector Nunez of Playas de Rosarito in western Mexico.

City officials have tried to contact him several times since the blaze. Certified letters have been returned unopened. It is not known for certain if Nunez is still in Mexico. There has been no direct communication between him and city officials.

Michaels explained that in the owner’s absence, “the burden is on the city.”

A fire damaged the vacant Maple Park School one year ago today. The former school was built in 1921 on Jacoby Street in John­s­town.

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