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The collapse of ITMO roof. St. Petersburg’s old buildings

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“We sat at the classroom and heard a loud noise”

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Dmitriy Kotnopatov was one of the 80 people inside the ITMO building at Lomonosova 9, when the roof collapsed. He says there was no panic or fear – just willingness to escape the dangerous place as quickly as possible.

  • Did you walk out in organized manner?

  • Yes, organized. We used flashlights to see each other and phone flashes.

  • There was no light, right?

  • None. Plus, thick dust – almost nothing visible.

The age factor played the key role in the roof collapse – the building was built in 1871. As well as re-modelling of the building in the 1950s – with two additional floors built. And renovation which began several years too. The contractor claims important structures were not touched.

Nikita Barabanshikov, CEO of subcontractor company: “During checks of internal structures of the building, we noticed some cracks – and included that into the evaluation report. The building was considered as operational with restrictions – which entails renovation works without any additional resources”.

In other words, the building has been steadily falling apart – quietly and invisible to the naked eye. In spite of hundreds of students attending classes there every day. And if one takes a closer look at the city’s center, it is not hard to understand how fragile St. Petersburg’s buildings are.

Anton Tsuman, reporter: “Right across the street from the hazardous ITMO – at Lomonosova 14 – is the Eliseev profit house. Many unofficial tourist guidebooks it is described as the most unusual and prettiest residential building in St. Petersburg. But it’s only the first glance. The reality is much more grim”.

“Here is how it looks from the inside. Lots of construction foam, buckets. All the elements of unsuccessful fight against leakages”.

  • “Everything here is leaking through the wooden walls.

  • Are you not terrified living here?”

  • I am almost strafing through my flat. Need a red thread somewhere here”.

You can see the collapsed roof from Svetlana Poskryakova’s window – she had worked in that building for thirty years. Twenty five of which she has been fighting floods in her own apartment – every time temperatures go above zero. The roof is leaking.

Here’s a video from her family archive. Foreign guests were genuinely surprised at the DIY solution – when buckets and even an inflatable pool turn into means of survival.

Svetlana Poskryakova, resident at Lomonosova 14: “I had a slight renovation here in the summer. Which was hard, considering the state of these ceilings”

  • What is the reason for that?

  • Bad roof

  • So why don’t they fix the roof?

  • They can’t, won’t or not able to. I don’t know.

You can see mold at some of the pictures. Which means that the wooden beams – which hold this building together – are under threat.

Anton Tsuman, reporter: “Here is what the inner beams turn into with humidity and age. A regular kitchen at a regular St. Petersburg dwelling. But the ceiling here is made of this rubble – which literally crumbles in your hands”.

This building at Sixth Sovetskaya Street has not seen capital renovation since it was built – in the early 19th century. The rotten beams are held together only by hastily installed supports. The apartment was labeled as hazardous several years ago, but its residents have nowhere to go and are forced to walk along the walls every day.

  • What if I walk in the middle here?

  • Its shaking

  • It actually bounces

  • Of course it does

Of course, one can say that you cannot expect longevity from wooden beams. That it is an archaic material. But construction experts have long said that wood is one of the sturdiest materials for beams. But it has to be maintained.

Alexey Kharitonov, professor at faculty of construction materials and metrology of SPBGASU: “Well ,maybe the neighbors had a flooding. So the water is there – despite that you might not be able to see it.

  • So its enough to at least look at it once a year?

  • Certainly. A visual check is like diagnosing an illness – the earlier you recognize a problem, the more chance you have of resolving it”.

And there are no defined legal norms about checking buildings. Quite often we learn of a buildings hazardous state when a tragedy becomes unavoidable.

2017. Kamennoostrovskiy Prospekt 57. The building covered in cracks. The reason – DIY re-modelling.

2017. Bolshoi Kazachiy lane, 10. The building collapses due to dilapidation.

2010. Ligovsky 145A, The Pavlov Building. After local police department moved out and relocated heavy lockers, walls were weakened and beams collapsed.

2002. Dormitory at Dvinskaya 8. The reason – blueprinting flaws.

For your information, this building at Dvinskaya was built in the 1970s – when most of St. Petersburg’s residential buildings went up. Like this one at Esenina Street. A typified panel building, LG-504. There are more than 400 of those in St. Petersburg – and those are now under strict eye of construction experts.

“The armored parts of these walls are sticking out. Here and there. Almost everywhere, as you can see. This is unacceptable”

Maldes Kardava is now evaluating this building – upon its residents’ request. A typical problem for this type of dwellings. Humidity and climate are literally destroying the building from the inside.

Maldes Kardava, construction expert: “This water makes it inside. And once temperatures change during the transition climate period, the state of the water changes as well. So it turns into ice, expands and rips through the walls. The more water gets in, the more the damage is”.

And these are the consequences. The difference in temperatures between the outer and inner walls is 7 degrees. Which generates mold, humidity and fragility of materials.

“This is the result of what we saw from the outside – water getting in, changing the state and affecting the inner constructions. It affects the materials. But also – it affects the health of the residents here, because this is mold. And this essentially destroys the building itself”.

And such expert analysis must be held regularly – not when residents ask for it. Negligence from building owners and real estate companies can lead to tragedies. And such control must be tightened today – before St. Petersburg’s buildings became a matter of life and death.

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