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Sault's chief building official afraid to enter old hospital

Safety an issue at derelict site of halted condo project

Eight years after its last patient was bussed up Great Northern Road, the old General Hospital building in downtown Sault Ste. Marie is so damp and filthy there's grass growing inside.

Freddie Pozzebon hasn't been to the place since last October.

The silver-maned chief building official and property standards officer has held virtually every job in the city's building division.

Over 28 years of inspecting the city's seediest, most run-down, dangerous structures, he's seen it all.

Even so, Pozzebon isn't sure he's up to visiting the old General again. 

"I don't know if we'd be safely able to walk through that building at this point," he was saying last week, testifying under oath before the city's property standards appeal committee.

"There's a serious concern about whether we should even access the building. Unless the owner goes in there with a crew and cleans stuff up and brings it back to some level of safety, I have reservations about going into that building, or sending anybody into that building."

The "owner" Pozzebon mentioned would be Amit Sofer, the president of TVM Group, seated on the other side of the hearing room.

Pozzebon's been riding Sofer hard ever since last June, when city council passed a resolution demanding a property standards crackdown on the waterfront site.

Sofer, whose TVM Group picked up the property in 2013 for $65,000 and has since renovated the former Plummer site into condominiums, has been slapped with compliance orders for the remaining General and former renal unit structures.

Pozzebon is so concerned about the amount of water accumulating in the old General and the former Plummer Hospital renal wing nearby, that among other things, he's ordered Sofer to commission a structural stability report from a professional engineer, certifying that the structures aren't about to collapse.

For his part, Sofer has been appealing the orders, angling relentlessly for more time to get his residential project back on track.

The committee ordered last week's hearing to go ahead anyway.

Pozzebon talked about conditions he found at the old hospital sites.

He talked particularly about water literally flowing in cracks through the entire General Hospital building, top to bottom.

"There was a lot of water on the floor. Ceiling tiles were hanging down. There was a lot of very hazardous building materials hanging. There was a lot of leakage from the ceiling," Pozzebon said.

"There were several areas, for whatever reason, where there was actually grass growing in some areas, because of moisture and all the dirt that's inside the building."

"The building basement is full of water, which is one of the detrimental parts to the structural integrity," he said.

"The more moisture gets into steel columns and connections, the more susceptible they are to collapse."

Sofer's property standards appeal is expected to continue next month.