Historic Gallatin building damaged after streetscape renovationPosted: Updated:
There are few Tennessee towns with more visible history than Gallatin, which has 77 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
However, the county seat of Sumner County does not have a single local law protecting those buildings from progress or, ultimately, the wrecking ball.
And it's the case of the oldest building of them all, a place linked to one of Tennessee's greatest state heroes, that has one man still paying the price, he says, for shattered history and a broken promise.
The new and improved Gallatin square has been recently polished by a $2.2 million streetscape renovation. But few people seem to know the full cost of the construction work.
"This building was the oldest building in Gallatin. Well, it still is the oldest building, but the facade used to be the oldest building with sun-baked clay bricks. It was built about in 1803-1804 and was really an historic building, really nice," said building owner Brian Roehrig.
It was Andrew Jackson's law office and the site where doctors treated Confederate and Union casualties in the Civil War.
A talented soldier even drew a sketch of the building at 115 Public Square, which was left largely unchanged for about 147 years until this spring.
"April 27, they were on the square coming around this way, and I was assured what they would do was that they would cut the sidewalks with a saw and then they could pull the sections out very slowly, but that's not what happened," Roehrig said.
Legal testimony tells the story. There was a cut made in the old sidewalk, but it was followed by a backhoe with a jackhammer.
Witnesses say it rattled within inches of the historic building for at least 10 to 15 minutes straight.
"My building was set on two layers of brick going down 5 1/2 feet, and that was the foundation. And it's fine until you get vibration in there, and then it starts shifting and disintegrating the clay and the sand and the stuff that's in the bricks," Roehrig said. "When the vibration hit, it vibrated those layers of brick so bad what happened is the outer-layer facade was pushed out by vibration, and the inner layer started falling down inside that crack area. And that was causing the major bulge.
"I begged everybody to stop the construction, and, in fact, we filed for an injunction hearing. I wanted the time to be able to take the bricks off and rebuild my wall, and we were told they didn't have time to do that."
The facade of the building did come down, not in a pile, but piece by piece, and not by choice.
"It was heartbreaking. It really was," Roehrig said.
Roehrig sued the city and the contractor that did the demolition work, and a few months ago he won $48,000.
But jurors actually found him 49 percent at fault for what happened, and as that case was still playing out in court, bricks came tumbling down again. This time, it was at another historic building just a few feet away.
"The whole top of the building fell," said business owner Colleen Comstock. "It was just bricks and rubble everywhere - really, really scary."
Comstock doesn't own the Suddarth building, but she leases it for her pizza parlor.
And while there was a storm that night, she's not sure whether her building, too, might have been impacted by the renovation of the square.
"Not being an engineer, I don't know. Maybe," she said.
The Channel 4 I-Team wanted to ask the engineers who were hired to monitor vibrations on the Gallatin square about the guidelines they followed and when they recorded this data.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says when it comes to construction vibration damage, buildings extremely susceptible to harm should not be subject to vibrations that measure higher than 0.12 inches per second.
In Gallatin, on the square with the oldest buildings in town, readings were routinely higher. In some cases, they reached as high as 0.45 in/sec.
"They went way beyond the vibration limits," Roehrig said. "They could have gone about it in a little more cautiously and slowly and tenderly for the age of the buildings here."
The mayor's office and the Gallatin city attorney would not agree to be interviewed for this story, and they referred us to the engineers, VCE Inc., for technical questions.
VCE, which specializes in defending against unwarranted lawsuits and offering persuasive legal arguments also would not answer our questions about its own data and whether impact was too much for those old historic structures.
The Channel 4 I-Team wanted to talk to the city attorney and other officials in Gallatin, too, but no one would be interviewed for this story.
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