WEST UNION – Part of the building that housed the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services office in West Union collapsed Tuesday.
No one was injured. Health workers had evacuated the building on Vine Street hours earlier as construction workers were looking for ways to shore up the 100-plus-year-old brick structure, said owner Ray Steffens.
“That morning they heard something, so they called me in. Part of the wall had come to the inside. They got out, and we were working and trying to figure out what to do to stabilize it, but we couldn’t get it done in time,” Steffens said.
“She just went,” he said.
Health department employees are working out of offices in Independence and Decorah, and some are working from home, Steffens said Wednesday as he watched a backhoe remove the toppled marquee on the former movie theater. The building remains under guard as it holds confidential health records, he said.
The health department operated out of the first floor and basement, and an upstairs apartment has been vacant for about a decade, he said.
The collapse claimed the north and east walls, spilling bricks and buckling the roof.
Steffens estimates the building, located in the downtown, was built in the 1880s. It was constructed in a row-house fashion with adjacent buildings sharing side walls.
“All these old buildings in old towns are all hooked together. They are all joint walls,” Steffen said.
He believes the place had caught fire sometime in the distant past, as he had unearthed charred timbers during recent renovations.
The health department has been housed at the location for 40 years, according to Steffens.
Conditions for Tuesday’s collapse likely have roots in a fire at an adjacent townhouse to the north sometime about eight years ago, Steffens said. He said the health department building shared a wall with the townhouse, which was leveled following the blaze.
“The building never would have went down if the townhouse hadn’t of burned,” Steffen said.
On Tuesday, health workers heard sounds coming from the wall and left around noon. Construction workers came stabilize the wall, Steffen said. The walls crumbled around 5 p.m.
Steffen said he plans to salvage the first floor, remove the second floor and put on a new roof.
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