Many people think of famous architectural wonders when I tell them I am a structural engineer - things like the Sears Tower, Falling Water, even the Superdome. They tend to forget that architects and engineers are needed to design convenience stores and supermarkets as well. So, yes, I get to work on the occasional high profile project, but I also get to crawl around in people's attics, looking for splits in the wood on their trusses. I also look at a lot of cracks.
Today, I visited my second historic house, which a county in Delaware has decided to make our client preserve. At least my first experience with this type of assignment left me prepared to ask the right questions. I visited it about two years ago. It was "believed to be part of the underground railroad" by the county, and I thought it would be a fun excursion to preserve history. Instead, I found a very scary house that was nearly destroyed. The roof was caved in, the windows were boarded up, and the floor was rotting. It was filled to the brim with old furniture and who knows what else, some of it obviously from the second floor bedroom which had collapsed. I am pretty sure someone took one strategically placed swing of a sledgehammer and the whole thing crumbled to a pile of rubble.
Fast forward to today. I found out that a report had been written about House #2, and the client forwarded it without comment. The report discusses rotting structure and asbestos shingles, and concludes with a section indicating that it "reeks of urine", "is littered with feces", "exhibits signs of severe mold spore infestation", "is a bio hazard due to the presence of used drug needles", and (my personal favorite) causes anyone entering the premises "to be a magnet for fleas and ticks." OK, so I can handle wearing a mask to enter the building. I can step around feces and used drug needles. I can even ignore the scent of urine (having lived in a college apartment requiring use of an elevator on weekends). But they lost me at fleas and ticks. I thinketh not.
I wrote emails of protest to the client, but apparently, despite this assessment by a third party, the county is still requiring them to save it.
Actually, "save" is not even the right term. The house is right where they want to build their convenience store, so the county is making them move it to another location, where it will continue to stand, vacant and collapsing. Sometimes, I do not understand the government. But there was nothing I could do.
So, with a bit of trepidation, I drove to the site. Luckily, I was able to observe a lot from the outside. As I descended stairs that looked relatively in tact, I was bitten by a critter. It was a bug of some kind, though I did not spend much time studying it. I looked down to see a biggish spiderlike thing, and whacked at it. I was his last meal. (I am not certain how to define "biggish" because every time I replay the event, it gets bigger and bigger in my mind, until it is nearly dime-sized. It was probably more like the diameter of a pen cap...well, maybe less. I don't know. But it did bite me, and I raced up the stairs. I cannot get the feeling that I have fleas in my hair out of my head, and I am constantly running my fingers through to my scalp.
I went briefly into the rest of the house. Though I saw no feces, I was very creeped out by the darkness and the emptiness.
The sad part is, the house will probably not survive being moved - and that might be a good thing. It would be nice to see these dilapidated old buildings maintained, repaired, and restored. But I do not see the point of allowing them to remain vacant cesspools of disease and decay. That's just my two cents.