A new alarming claim has emerged in the Iowa building collapse disaster, with a contractor revealing he warned that the Davenport structure’s instability could prove deadly in the days before it came crashing down.
Ryan Shaffer, the owner of a local masonry company, told The Quad-Cities Times that he was approached by the building’s owner Andrew Wold in February about providing work to shore up the structure - which had reportedly been the subject of many complaints from tenants in the months prior - during ongoing repairs.
But when Mr Shaffer provided a quote upwards of $50,000, he claims Mr Wold turned it down because it was too expensive.
“He wanted to cut the cost by cutting out the shoring and supporting of the building,” Mr Shaffer told the Times. “I said, ‘If we don’t do it this way exactly, I’m not putting my guys in there. Somebody is going to die.”
Months later, Mr Shaffer said Mr Wold reached out again last week.
“[Mr Wold] was calling us and asking for I-beams and stuff to support it,” he said. “I looked at it and was like, ‘There’s no saving it at this point.’”
On Sunday (28 May), a large portion of the six-storey apartment complex collapsed. Four days later, no deaths have been reported but three tenants remain unaccounted for, with two of them feared to still be trapped in the wreckage. The city has grappled with a decision to demolish the remaining structure as engineers warn another collapse is “imminent” - but protesters insist a demolition cannot take place until everyone is accounted for.
The tragedy came after reports last week that bricks were falling off the building, and complaints from tenants of water leakage and concerning cracks on their apartment walls. At the time of the collapse, construction workers were doing several repairs on the structure’s exterior that had been approved by the city.
Mr Shaffer said he drove by the site two days before the collapse and warned workers: “Get away, you’re going to die.”
Then less than two hours before the collapse, he gave another warning for workers to leave.
After Mr Shaffer says Mr Wold turned down his February job quote, another company took on the work for $39,746, according to records, and the city approved the permitting for the repairs. The work was paused in March reportedly because Mr Wold did not agree with installing brick outside, as it is required by the city for historical buildings.
A building authority noted in online records that Mr Wold had not shared plans to resume the work but the structure was safe. The building went on to pass three city inspections between mid-April and early May, when the work was then listed as completed.
Upon reports of bricks falling off last week, a new permit was submitted and approved on 24 May. A $3,000 work plan began the next day to replace the bricks, which Mr Shaffer described as severely insufficient for the magnitude of the structure’s issues.
“We were here working all day [near the building],” Mr Shaffer told the Times. “Literally, we were just waiting for the building to drop.”
Last year, the building submitted nearly 20 permits, mainly for plumbing or electrical issues. Last week’s permit’s inspection for “framing before cover” appeared to be approved when the complex came down around 5pm on Sunday but now appears as “failed” on the City of Davenport website, local news station KWQC first reported.
When confronted about the change, a city spokesperson told the outlet that it was due to a “computer glitch” and that it should appear as “incomplete” but denied a Freedom of Information Act request for the physical documents. The Independent has reached out to the city for comment.
The city has been in contact with Mr Wold, Fire Marshal Jim Morris said on Tuesday. State agencies are coordinating what agency will take the lead in the investigation but no criminal charges have been filed so far.
Iowa court records reviewed by The Independent on Wednesday show that Mr Wold and Davenport Hotel LLC are listed as defendants in a civil enforcement action brought by the City of Davenport on 30 May. Mr Wold faces a $300 fine for failing to keep the building “safe, sanitary and structurally sound condition,” WQAD reports.
It is unclear whether Mr Wold will have a chance to present his case before city officials before the fine becomes effective.
Despite a myriad of reports from past and current tenants that the building’s conditions were unsafe, a structural engineer hired by the owner deemed the structure safe, officials said.
According to a profile published in The Quad-City Times in 2016, Mr Wold is an avid real estate buyer with a large portfolio.
“I like to buy blocks,” he said at the time. “I like to be able to control the area, to kind of police it.”
Mr Wold and building management said in a statement to We Are Iowa that they were working to promptly refund deposits to tenants.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants and families during this difficult time,” the joint statement read. “We would like to thank the brave men and women of Davenport fire, Davenport police department, and all other first responders for their tireless efforts to ensure everyone’s safety.”
“We have been working closely with the American Red Cross and other agencies to assist the displaced tenants affected by this event ...”
The Independent has reached out to Mr Wold and building management for comment.