Pa. officials consider stricter regulation in wake of Philly building collapse

State officials held a hearing Tuesday on last month’s fatal building collapse in Philadelphia. Legislators also are considering measures that could mandate more insurance for demolition contractors and higher permit fees.

The hearing before two Pennsylvania House Committees went over much of the same information from previous City Council hearings on the Market Street building collapse that killed six people and injured 13.

Pat Gillespie of the Building Trades Council testified that professionals still can’t believe how the building was being torn down when a wall collapsed onto an adjacent thrift store.

“From the vantage point of people in the construction industry, people who are trained and who know the business, they just shake their heads at how stupid this operation was,” Gillespie said. “How awful it was.”

Insurance, tougher requirements

A proposed state bill calls for $1 million insurance policy for any demolition contractor tearing down a building in the city and a 15 percent increase in fees for demolition permits in order to pay for more inspectors.

The tougher requirements could hurt startup companies, warned Michael Taylor, executive director of the  National Demolition Association.

“It makes perfect sense, but the issue is, what if you are a kid back from Iraq, Afghanistan? You wanted to start a business, it might be hard getting that million-dollar insurance certificate,” Taylor said. “You would say to your insurance broker, ‘I want to get into the demolition business and I need $1 million worth of insurance.

“But I can’t give you insurance if you don’t have experience, I can’t get experience if I don’t have insurance.”

Lives are at stake, said state Rep. Bill Keller, D-Philadelphia, who favors a million-dollar policy as the minimum required to tear down a building.

“Making them have a requirement, you have to have some experience, you have to have some equipment, you have to know what you are doing,” he said. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask when the public safety is involved.”

The legislation isn’t expected to be considered before the fall.

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