Such a situation faced the Fremont city board of education in December 1909.
On a Friday evening, Dec. 3, passersby in the vicinity of the new high school under construction heard some ominous noises and soon the center of the unfinished three-story building and much of the interior collapsed onto the first floor.
Of course, the structure was unoccupied and no one was at work so there were no injuries. The ruins were roped off and guarded to prevent any intruders and so the damage could be inspected the next day in daylight. The sound of the collapse could be heard over most of the town and citizens flocked to the scene on Croghan Street near the courthouse. The next day many photographers were out in full force and no doubt many old family albums still contain those photographs.
There were two major questions to be settled. One was, what happened? And the other was, who’s responsible for the repair costs? The board of education was bombarded with theories as to the cause. One theory was that the support walls for the upper steel beams were not strong enough; another was that there was quicksand under the building (even though there was no sign of foundation shifting); and yet another was that the new school was a waste of money in the first place.
As to cost, there was a standard contract between the board and the building firm, Andrews Brothers of Cleveland. The contract put all financial responsibility on the contractor until the building was completed, turned over to the board and accepted by it. First estimates of the damage was $25,000 while calmer estimates ranged as low as $5,000.
A state inspector from Columbus arrived on Monday but gave a disappointing report. The board of education hoped that liability would be placed on the architects or the contractor, or even on the state of Ohio for having approved plans for a building which collapsed. Instead, they found out that while the state of Ohio was required to approve the plans, their approval was based only on adequate heat, light and ventilation. The plan inspectors did not attempt to verify whether the planned building was structurally sufficient.
After a couple of weeks of negotiating and discussing, Andrews Bros. were allowed to resume work. It was revealed that the board of education had never received or reviewed a set of the plans showing the proposed strength of the supporting walls, and after the collapse, no complete set of plans could be located with the contractor.
The bottom line of all this is that the work did resume; the building was completed a year later than planned; and ultimately served as the high school for 30 years or more. It has since been razed.
I had hoped to learn more answers in this story myself, but I do believe that the board of educaion did not have to pay for the damage from the collapse. No doubt the contractor “took a bath” on this project unless he had a performance bond or liabilty insurance. If he didn’t have insurance on Dec. 3, 1909, I’m sure he obtained some soon after.
* * *
REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe at 7 W. Main St. in downtown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.
Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.