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Safety violations found at rescue mission

June 29, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Fire safety and building code violations were found during inspections of the Martinsburg Union Rescue Mission in May and have prompted the operators of the homeless shelter to delay asking permission to build a new 78-bed mission.

"The inspections' results underscore the mission's need for a new residential building," attorney Hoy Shingleton said in a news release announcing the delay until September.

"The mission's buildings are very old and very costly to maintain. The new building will ensure a long and successful future for the Rescue Mission," he said in the release.

City officials found 16 violations of international property maintenance, building and plumbing codes, ranging from lack of guardrails and handrails on the front porch of 602 W. King St. to holes in plaster and damaged ceilings, according to a June 5 letter from Martinsburg Building Code Official G. Darby Dean. The letter was addressed to the Rev. William C. Crowe, the mission's superintendent.

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Structural integrity of posts and beams in the mission's attic and basement, along with a needed kitchen exhaust system, fire extinguisher repairs and sprinklers, were among numerous concerns identified by Martinsburg Fire Department Capt. G. Edgar Gochenour in a six-page fire safety inspection report.

Gochenour, the city's fire marshal, said the Rescue Mission also must have an electrical inspection to address wiring problems. He also noted that fire drills need to be conducted and recorded, and the building's fire alarm system needs to be licensed and tested annually.

"Any future renovations or expansions shall include the fire marshal and building code officials to hopefully prevent any further problems with fire and building codes in the future," Gochenour said in his letter to Crowe.

Gochenour and Dean gave Rescue Mission leaders 60 days to submit a plan of correction to address the problems, according to reports released by the city on Monday.

Rescue Mission Board President Earl Stout said the violations prompted the nonprofit organization's board of directors to reprogram $25,000 in the budget to pay for the upgrades.

"We have already made many of the repairs, but the biggest costs we face will be putting a fire sprinkler system in the thrift store building," Stout said in the news release.

"We are committed to make all the necessary repairs and remodeling to ensure the safety of the men living at the mission and our customers at the thrift store," he said.

The Rescue Mission's plan for replacing the building that was to be considered by the Board of Zoning Appeals next month was revised to a 78-bed facility after the zoning board denied variances requested to build a 98-bed facility in February 2008.

Last year, the mission provided shelter to an average of 58 men per night, according to documents submitted to the city with the new application.

The new application asks for the facility to be allowed to provide 14 fewer parking spaces than the city's ordinance would require and a reduction in a side setback for parking.

The Union Rescue Mission, a nondenominational organization, offers five "Christ-centered" rehabilitation and residential programs to single men, and one community-support program. They include short-term shelter, drug/alcohol rehabilitation, job training, permanent-supportive housing and a food, clothing and furniture bank program.

Shingleton said in the news release that the Union Rescue Mission wanted to make sure it satisfied the city's requirements for fire and building safety before moving forward with a new plan.

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