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Sept. 24, 2021

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City of Vancouver reaffirms Providence Academy smokestack’s tenuous outlook

Officials say that once it’s declared unsafe, it’s not likely to be saved

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

An 80-foot smokestack at Providence Academy in downtown Vancouver seems even less likely to be spared from demolition.

The city of Vancouver said on Thursday that the smokestack is unlikely to be saved once it is declared unsafe. Engineers say the stack, which is made of unreinforced bricks, would collapse in an earthquake.

Sree Thirunagari, Vancouver’s chief building official, will soon decide whether to declare the structure unfit and dangerous to public safety. If so, the owner of the smokestack, The Historic Trust, will tear it down because it’s not feasible to save it.

The smokestack has not been used in decades. It, along with an abandoned boiler and laundry, were built in the decades after the Academy, which is a historic landmark and one of the oldest buildings in Washington.

A recent campaign to reinforce the ivy-covered smokestack to meet seismic safety standards raised only $600.

City of Vancouver Development Review Division Manager Jason Nortz said that if the city declares the structure unfit, there is no option for an appeal by members of the public or groups interested in historical preservation.

“Only the person cited in the Notice of Civil Violation and Order or any person having any record title or legal interest in the building, structure, premise, personal property, or land where the violation is alleged to exist may appeal a Notice of Civil Violation and Order,” he explained.

Nortz also said that there is no requirement to hold a public hearing.

Sean Denniston, chair of the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission, opposes issuing an order declaring the structure unfit. “I think it is fair to say that such an order would violate the purpose of the unfit building code, and that the demolition order of the laundry and boiler buildings did violate the purpose of that code.”

“The unfit building determination is being sought at the behest of the owner and was not initiated out of the city’s concern for public safety,” Denniston wrote in an email to The Columbian. “It is abundantly clear that development and financial considerations are the driving motivation for demolition, not safety. The unfit building code is meant to address safety, not development, and so a demolition order violates the purpose of the code.”

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