Oak Bluffs building inspector declares Island Theater unsafe

A Superior Court judge wants answers on the Island Theater by 3 pm Friday. –MVT file photo

Failing a Hollywood ending, it appears the century-old Island Theater at the foot of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, closed since 2012, has shown its last picture show.

Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro told The Times the building is unsafe, and unless owners Brian and Ben Hall make structural repairs, he will take the procedural steps to have it demolished. Mr. Barbadoro is prepared to take action based on the findings included in a four-page report dated May 27 he received from Michael Berry of Acton, a state-certified consulting structural engineer.

“It is our professional opinion,” Mr. Berry said, “as of the date of our inspection as requested by the local building inspector, that the subject building at 1 Circuit Avenue in its current condition can be classified as ‘dangerous’ in accordance with the Massachusetts State Building Code structural inspection of the dilapidated building code [and] the International Existing Building Code.”

In part, the state code defines dangerous as: “There exists a significant risk of collapse, detachment, or dislodgement of any portion, member, appurtenance, or ornamentation of the building or structure under service loads.”

The damning report cites gaps in the masonry walls, gapped and misaligned pilasters, and incomplete roof repairs as just a few of the contributing factors to the “dangerous” designation.

Under the heading “Professional Opinion,” Mr. Berry said, “Cracks and gaps at the junction between the walls and the pilasters are evidence that the building is detached with differential movement due to service loads, and represents a significant risk of future additional detachment and/or dislodgement, since the walls are unreinforced and not mechanically anchored to the roof framing at the top of the walls.”

Fix it or remove it

“They need to make it not dangerous, or take it down, or I’m going to take it down,” Mr. Barbadoro told The Times on Monday. Mr. Barbadoro said he’s not yet decided whether the deadline will be Sept. 1 or Sept. 15.

Since Mr. Barbadoro was hired in the fall of 2014, the back-and-forth between him and building co-owner Brian Hall, who is overseeing repairs to the building, has yielded some gains, most notably a new roof that went on this spring that the inspection found was incomplete. But the poky pace of progress has not satisfied Mr. Barbadoro or town officials who, at the very least, wanted the exterior renovated by June so it would not be a black eye on the downtown for yet another summer.

“I’m waiting to hear back from the selectmen to confirm that I have the authority to order the building brought down, in which case I’ll start getting bids,” Mr. Barbadoro said. “The other option is that the Halls make it safe.”

Mr. Barbadoro said given the extent of the repairs needed to make the building safe, and the slow pace of repairs thus far, he was not optimistic that the building would be saved.

“Fixing it is going to cost a lot of money,” he said. “You have to reinforce the masonry, put in rebar, then pour a concrete wall up against it. It is not easy to do. It’s not in keeping with Brian’s master plan for it, which is to create a large open retail space.”

According to Mr. Barbadoro, Mr. Hall said the short timetable would make it impossible to get approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for the necessary repairs.

“The bottom line is he could knock down the masonry walls, put up steel walls and sheathe it and stucco it and not need to go to the MVC,” Mr. Barbadoro said. “It’s the change of use that will trigger the MVC review.”

Mr. Barbadoro said the bottom line for him is the safety of the general public.

“I like Brian personally, but he’s had two and a half years. I can’t have an unsafe building on a busy street corner forever,” he said.

If the building has to be demolished, state law allows the town to recover the expense.

In addition, Ben Hall, the robustly litigious lawyer for the Hall family and co-owner of the building, may not be able to stall the demolition. Mr. Barbadoro said that it is his understanding that when a building is declared unsafe, and public safety is jeopardized, litigation cannot stop the wrecking ball.

Mr. Barbadoro said he thinks that Brian Hall has been unduly singled out by townspeople. “There’s a lot of ramshackle buildings in town,” he said. “I think there are some family dynamics that have slowed Brian down as well. It’s not all his doing. Regardless, I have to follow through the right way.”

Mr. Barbadoro referred to Massachusetts law Chapter 143, section six, which states, “The local inspector, immediately upon being informed by report that a building is dangerous to life or limb or that any building in that city or town is unused, uninhabited, or abandoned, and open to the weather … [will] notify the owner, lessee, or mortgagee in possession to remove it or make it safe if it appears to him to be dangerous.”

‘Weighing options’

Tuesday afternoon, Brian Hall told The Times he had not yet read the report, but had discussed the decision with Mr. Barbadoro that morning.

“I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with my brother or my dad,” he said. “We’re weighing our options. The status quo does not do us any good, we’re still paying taxes and insurance on the building. I would like to get the building to a place where it’s no longer considered unsafe, and improve the appearance. It also doesn’t do us any good to be upsetting the community.”