Oak Bluffs building inspector declares Island theater unsafe

On Friday, faced with a deadline, Brian Hall said work had begun to rectify the building's many deficiencies. He has 30 days to do so.

The Island theater remains vacant and dark. — Martha's Vineyard Times file pho

Updated Friday, June 5 at 3:42 pm

Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro sent a certified letter dated June 3 to attorney Ben Hall Jr., and Brian Hall, co-owners of the Island theater on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, in which he said the long vacant and deteriorating building is in danger of collapse, and therefore a public safety hazard. Citing a long history of delays and unkept promises to correct problems, Mr. Barbadoro said if repairs were not underway by noon on Friday, he would take action that could ultimately lead to the building’s demolition.

On Friday morning, Brian Hall told The Times that he had begun work early that morning. He said the delay was initially caused by the extreme winter weather, and that the delay was compounded by difficulty finding available contractors once the weather broke.

Moving forward, Mr. Hall said he will comply with Mr. Barbadoro to the best of his ability. “I have a good relationship with Mark Barbadoro and I look forward to maintaining a good relationship with him.”

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Barbadoro said he made a site visit and confirmed that Mr. Hall had begun the repairs. “He has 30 days to repair the roof and the walls,” Mr. Barbadoro said. “There’s no reason the work can’t be done in that time.”

Reid Silva, engineer with Martha’s Vineyard Land Surveying & Engineering, will supervise the repairs.

Although there is a town by law that prohibits construction work in the downtown district between June 1 and September 15, Mr. Barbadoro said that when public safety is an issue, the building code trumps town by-law.

“I will follow the intention of the law and keep our impact on the downtown as minimal as possible,” Mr. Hall said.

Collapse possible

Although he considered the building unsafe after his February 5 inspection, Mr. Barbadoro waited four months to make the official declaration in part because of the “ferocious winter.” He also said the delay would benefit the town if the Halls initiate litigation.  “Now if needed, I can hold a Board of Survey and if the outcome is that the building is unsafe I can now be confident that I will win in court which will save  time and money and have a successful outcome,” he said.

Mr. Barbadoro hand-delivered the letter to the Halls on Thursday and released it to the press at 1 pm, the same day.

“I have concluded that the walls and roof might collapse and cause serious injury to the public,” Mr. Barbadoro wrote. “In addition, the building is uninhabited, unused open to the elements and appears to be abandoned.”

Mr. Barbadoro said if the Halls took no action, he would, pursuant to Massachusetts state law, convene a board of survey “to make a recommendations as to its disposition.”

Once the board of survey recommends a course of action, “the Town may either employ workers to make the building safe or raze the structure. If the town must pay for the work, you will be assessed a tax lien to cover the town’s expenses,” Mr. Barbadoro said.

In his June 3 letter, Mr. Barbadoro included a timeline dating back to June 2014, when former building inspector James Dunn issued a stop work order to Brian Hall. After months of legal wrangling, the stop work order was reversed by the Massachusetts Building Code Appeals Board in November, 2014.

On February 5, Mr. Barbadoro inspected the theater with retired health agent Shirley Fauteux. “I believed the building was unsafe to enter and if the walls were hit by high enough winds, they could collapse and cause serious injury to pedestrians on the nearby sidewalk,” Mr. Barbadoro said.

Mr. Barbadoro then issued all necessary permits for the repairs to Brian Hall on February 13. “Brian Hall told me that he would begin work as soon as the weather broke,” Mr. Barbadoro wrote. “To date, May 28, 2015, no work has begun.”

Informed of the letter Wednesday, selectman Walter Vail, a long outspoken critic of the Hall’s handling of the Island theater, applauded Mr. Barbadoro’s action.

“Mark’s tried very hard to work with the Halls. Now that this is becoming a public safety concern, he has to act,” he said.

“I implored Ben and Brian Hall to, at the very least, make aesthetic improvements to the exterior by June 1,” Mr. Vail said. “My goal was to have it appropriately dressed up by summer, and it hasn’t happened. Nothing has been done. It really ticks me off.”