Building reconstruction at fire-stricken Stepping Stones

       Sometime next fall, when the recently started reconstruction is complete, Stepping Stones may look as if it never had a fire.
       One person who will know better is Paul Kavanaugh, president of the homeowners association for the multi-building, 80-unit condominium development west of 19th Street, near Uintah Gardens. He's had to work long and often on the issue since the blaze - which city fire officials termed accidental without a known cause - engulfed most of a Stepping Stones 10-plex Aug. 9, 2009. In a recent interview, Kavanaugh described working for months with residents, government officials, insurance representatives, an architect and contractor - in an effort to restore what had been built in 1983, except in ways acceptable to modern building standards. The estimated cost will be about $1.2 million.

From a similar angle, the reconstruction of the 8 burned units at Stepping Stones (left) contrasts with the 10-unit structure's appearance after the fire in August 2009 (right).
Westside Pioneer photo

       “What amazed me as a person not involved in construction was the huge amount of time it took,” he said. “There were a lot of rules we had to go through. It was a very long and tedious process.”
       He had some excitement - not the kind he wanted - on the night of the fire. The Stepping Stones building that includes his condo is 90 feet away from the building that burned. One of the chimneys in his building even caught fire briefly, leaving burn damage on the deck. “I was just coming down from the mountains when I began getting calls,” he remembered.
       After the fire, which involved units from 9 of the city's 20 fire stations, it took awhile even to define the impact. An early Fire Department report described the stricken building as having 12 units, with 6 possibly saved. The eventual reality for the 10-plex was that all but 2 of its units had to be torn down. Those two, located at the east end of the building, still sustained some mold damage, Kavanaugh said.
       Although the attempt with the eight new units is to retain the old appearance, several upgrades were necessary, Kavanaugh summarized. These include interior sprinkler systems, the capability of handicapped-accessibility retrofitting and a composite siding material that looks like the old cedar but is more fire resistant. Additionally, a two-hour firewall will be built between the two salvaged units and the eight new ones.
       The reconstruction started in May with foundation repairs. This week walls were being framed. The expected completion date is around the end of October.
       Kavanaugh is not certain how many of the old tenants will return. Four condo owners will be coming back, he said, but others that were renters may have permanently relocated.

Westside Pioneer article