Concerns over deteriorating buildings downtown, Pima County racing to make them secure

Published: Jul. 24, 2019 at 7:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A 20-story, 52-year-old building owned by Pima County downtown is falling apart. It’s the building at 32 North Stone, the building with all the blue brickwork.

It's the county's Legal Service building which houses, among other things, the Pima County Attorney's office.

Two months ago, a worker found pieces of a blue brick on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Facilities Management discovered the pieces fell from the façade about a third of the way up the 260 foot tall building. It was repaired but the search began to discover if there might be a bigger problem.

They found out there is.

"We've had people out here two times now," said Lisa Josker, the Director of Facilities Management. "Now we've hired a façade specialist to test every brick."

There are thousands of bricks on the façade and each one will be tested to determine if they need to “be underpinned, whether they need to be glued or they need to be replaced,” she said.

Drone video of the building taken by the county shows damage to the bricks near the top, just below the time and temperature message board which was added on to the building.

The board is 15-feet tall and was considered an iconic Tucson sign on the original Home Federal Tower or Great American Tower. It could be seen for miles, but was turned off when the county bought the building in 1987, in part because of the expense.

It is showing signs of age, especially rust from the years of neglect and weather.

“It’s rusty and the rust is creating water pockets in the façade of the building,” Josker said.

It's also thought those water pockets are causing seepage through the windows.

"Our thought is, it needs to go," she said.

The panels of the message board are also used to protect equipment on top of the building so a new protective covering would need to be added if the time and temperature message board is replaced.

That too may create some difficulty.

The county, as the urging of the Historical Society, looked at possibly relighting the message board six years ago. However, Josker said the price tag for that was prohibitive, estimated to be more than $1 million at the time.

Still she expects pushback from some people who believe the board is an iconic symbol and needs to be preserved. But the building, and the safety of the people, come first.

“If it’s deemed through the study that there is a danger to any pedestrians or traffic, we’ve already discussed this, putting up a bridge or awning, if you will, over the sidewalk area,” she said.

While the operation is in the study stage, Josker says she feels confident in the safety of the public.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said.

Work to test the bricks, each one of them, begins in the middle of August, as workers will be hanging over the edge of the building tapping each brick individually to test their viability.

That should take about a week, according to Josker.

The county is also looking at replacing the windows in the building to make it more energy efficient, as well as replace the sliding glass doors on the west side of the building, which were used to accommodate cigarette smokers a half century ago.

“Late sixties early seventies, downtown revitalization, these building were built in that time frame,” she said. “And they need some attention now.”

Copyright 2019 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.