Toilet overflow causes damage to former Hamilton city building

Building is home to new brewery, business start-ups.Police investigating if damage was triggered by vandalism.

Municipal Brew Works, which officially opened June 8, got an estimate of $100,000 to repair damage to its drywall, plaster and other items, said Mark Jackson, one of five co-owners of the business, and Jeff Warndorf, project executive for Gridstone Construction Inc., which built out the micro-brewery’s space and obtained the repair estimate. The micro-brewery remains open for business and customers “don’t even know” about the damage, Jackson said.

Hamilton police are investigating whether the damage was triggered by an act of vandalism.

“They’re trying to determine if there was any criminal intent or not with this,” said police spokesman Sgt. Brian Robinson. “And at this point, there have been no charges that were filed.”

Most of the building is leased to the non-profit Hamilton Mill business incubator, which helps startup companies develop. The incubator under its lease is required to carry at least $3 million in insurance for property damages and injury to people.

“This toilet had been acting funny,” said Chris Lawson, a city-paid employee who is on loan to Hamilton Mill, serving as its executive director, as he showed the damage. “A flush caused it to go nuts, and when I say nuts, remember the fountain in Disney’s “Fantasia?” There was gallons per second going down the stairs. It went everywhere.”

Unlike many toilets, this one had no shut-off valve, so people were unable to turn it off. Firefighters “had to go downstairs to actually shut off the water” to the building, Lawson said.

“People were trying to turn it off, and trying to get it to quit, and they couldn’t so (the fire department) was called,” Lawson said.

Water slid down walls, pooled above panels in dropped ceilings and flooded an elevator shaft.

Fortunately, “mold doesn’t like plaster — and there’s tons of plaster in here — unlike drywall, which mold absolutely loves,” Lawson said.

The toilet was in an office space formerly occupied by ODW Logistics & Transportation Services, which later moved to 345 High St. in Hamilton. A couple start-up companies were considering moving into the space, “and one of them pressed the handle” of the toilet, Lawson said.

“I think what the police may be looking at what was the actual root cause of it?” Lawson said. “Was somebody purposely trying to do something? I don’t know.”

No significant damage was caused to contents of TV Hamilton, the Robert McCloskey museum or other occupants of the building, Lawson said.

Brandon Saurber, director of Hamilton’s Strategy & Information department, said damaged parts of the building included carpet; plaster and paint; an elevator; ceiling tiles; and asbestos, which had to be removed.

Jackson, of the micro-brewery, said the city’s insurer, Westfield Insurance, has told the business, “we don’t know if we’re going to cover you.’… They’re just hem-hawin’ us along…. So we have nothing fixed yet. We don’t have the money to pay for it. We kind of tapped all of our resources and some to get this opened.”

Asked about insurance coverage for the property, Saurber wrote in an email: “With this building being sublet to a non-profit, The Hamilton Mill, and subsequently its tenants, the process with the insurance is rather complicated. There is ongoing work being done by insurance adjusters and others to sort out the details.”

Saurber said later in an interview that the city’s coverage will pay for returning the micro-brewery’s area to the “vanilla box” state it was in when it was leased. It will be up to the micro-brewery’s insurance to restore improvements the brew works made, he said, adding the insurance matters still are being worked out.

“The place has old pipes, clearly,” Lawson said. “It’s kind of ancient.”

Several years ago, during frigid weather, pipes did burst and damage the television facility. The building, which is an architectural gem, particularly on the inside, also has water damage from past leaks through its various roofs, he said.

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