Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A-Marting We Will Go!

Howard Baughman entering Marting building.

(This is a reposting of a blog from Jan. 13, 2005.)

The Marting building is like a Potemkin Village. Potemkin was a Russian Field Marshall who purportedly erected fake facades of villages along the travel route of Empress Catherine II during her tour of the Crimea. Potemkin wanted to impress her by pulling the wool over her eyes. Marting’s is Portsmouth’s Potemkin Village. The eastern and northern sides of the building are covered with a false brick façade. That façade hides the true condition of the Marting building (or the Marting buildings, because there actually three old buildings behind the facade.).

Mayor Kalb was quoted in the Portsmouth Daily Times (4/22/06) on why he changed his mind about the Marting building, which he said he was against, even though he voted for it, and then he changed his mind again and was for it. “I thought we were talking about a wood-framed building," he said. "We’re not. We’re talking about a concrete structure.”  “Don’t take any wooden nickels,” is a popular expression, only for Kalb it was “Don’t take any wooden buildings.” If a building has a brick and concrete structure, it is much safer than a wooden one.

 But wait a minute. If concrete is so good, how come the Municipal building is falling down? It’s not that old, compared to the Marting building. The Municipal building was built in 1934. The Marting building was built in 1883. That makes the Marting building 51 years older than the Municipal building. The concrete in the Marting building is 51 years older than the concrete in the Municipal building. Concrete technology had come a long way in the half century between 1883 and 1934. In 1883 concrete was primitive compared to 1934 concrete. In fact, “concrete” may be a misnomer for the structure of the Marting building. Structural engineers had learned how to strengthen poured concrete, to reinforce it and make it more resilient. But 1883 predates poured concrete; the foundation of the Marting building is brick and mortar, not poured concrete.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Mayor Kalb wants the city to move out of the Municipal Building because it is falling apart and is unsafe even though its not wooden.

Howard Baughman, now president of the Portsmouth City Council, testified that the reason the council rushed through the purchase of the Marting building, in 2002, was not because they were trying to pull a fast one on the public but because it was dangerous for city employees to work a day longer in the Municipal building. To quote his testimony in court, “it is important to get out of the building we’re now in because it’s unsafe and it’s not healthy for the workers that work there. And I believe it was important for that reason to do it as quickly as possible.”

As Mayor Kalb told Times reporter Jeff Barron, the reason he was initially opposed to purchasing the Marting building was because he thought its frame was wood. If the mayor sounds like he doesn’t know what he is talking about when he talks about structural engineering, remember his only previous experience was as a grocery clerk at Kroger’s. We shouldn’t expect him to know about the fine points of wooden and concrete structures, not even the fundamentals.

But buildings are not only about what materials they are made of but also about whether they contain asbestos, mold, and other harmful pollutants. Asbestos was one of the original concerns about the Marting building. Mold was also. But then the public was told there was no problem with asbestos or mold.

The photo above shows what’s behind the walls in the interior of Marting’s. The foundation of the building is brick and mortar, rather than poured concrete. This is what the “foundation” of the 125-year-old building looks like. This is what is behind the Potemkin facade of the Marting building, one of the hidden nooks and crannies where danger may lurk. The moldy, unhealthy air around the brick and mortar foundation smells like it is 125 years old. An Egyptologist, who explores inside pyramids, not a structural engineer, is what Marting’s needs. This is the kind of foundation city officials want to build a City Center on at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars. The City Center plans show how ignorant its promoters are of the past and how little regard they have for the future and for the health and safety of the public and of city workers. For them, the Marting building must be the site of new city offices at all costs. The public must be persuaded there is nothing wrong with the building that millions of dollars in renovation costs won’t cure.

Phantom Gallery, Con Artists

The recklessness of the promoters of the City Center were evident in their plans to hold a “Phantom Artists" exhibit in the Marting building the first weekend in October, which was  a month before the election that will decide the fate of the building. Somebody tipped off the State Fire Marshall, who put the kibosh on the building being used for anything. “We certainly would not want to place anyone's safety in jeopardy, nor would we want the city to have to pay for expensive and time-consuming repairs," responded the director of the Portsmouth Area Arts Council. Encouraging local artists is a good thing but using them as political pawns, as the promoters of the City Center are doing, is not. The Phantom Artists exhibit is being put off indefinitely. That’s what the voters should do on Nov. 4: Vote No in the City Center and put off doing anything with the Marting building until the current con artists in city government are either recalled or voted out of office and replaced with honest public servants.