Replica of McKinley house in Niles has real issues

NILES — The replica house of President William McKinley’s birth home is a little more than a decade old but has cracks running up its walls, among other problems. The McKinley Birthplace Home and Research Center has been closed since June because of structural issues.

A meeting with an architect, contractors, building inspector and members of the McKinley Memorial Library Board is scheduled for noon today in the house, 40 S. Main St. The doors will be open and the parking lot gate unlocked for members of the public who want to attend.

Thus far, estimates for work that has been completed and work that needs to be done is about $40,000, with about $24,000 of that for waterproofing and $18,000 for reinforcing the building, said Michelle Alleman, director of the McKinley Memorial Library Board.

Architect Bruce Sekanick was brought in to plan the repairs after pressure on the building’s foundation and the need for waterproofing were discovered earlier this year.

“It started with waterproofing, but we found a lot of issues because the site was not filled properly,” Alleman said. “There was a lot of pressure building up, leading to doors not shutting.”

Concrete walls in the basement were not reinforced, Sekanick said. “That is very unusual,” he said.

The original builder used slag from steel mills to fill the site. The slag, while not unusual for builders to try when the building was built about 15 years ago, has since been known to cause issues with foundations in the Valley, Sekanick said.

The structure was placed on a brand new foundation and the site was excavated just enough to build it, and a lot of what was excavated was used in the fill too, Sekanick said.

“Normally, it would have been removed,” Sekanick said.

It will take about 10 days to finish work after the job starts up again, Sekanick said.

A crew will go into the existing walls and reinforce them, and then the walls will be strong enough to back fill against, Sekanick said.

Enough time has passed since the original contractors built the home that they cannot be held responsible for the problems, Alleman said. She wasn’t sure who built it but said the company went out of business.

The porch and balcony were also falling apart, Sekanick said.

But the cost to repair the largely cosmetic work may not be in the budget.

The problems with the fill were discovered when the company waterproofing the basement excavated the land around it. Removing the slag might increase the price for the job, but Sekanick said he doesn’t expect it to.

The project has been difficult to finish because of the arising problems during the job, low interest from area contractors and because all of the involved parties needed to meet and figure out how they wanted to move forward, Alleman said.

Several contractors, the board, Sekanick and a building inspector were involved in the planning of the work, and the meeting today is to help get the parties on the same page to start moving forward, Alleman said.

Chris Tanneyhill, a building inspector in Warren, is on loan to the city for the project, and the proper permits have been pulled, Sekanick said.