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Simms apartment residents relocated

September 28, 2018

HUNTINGTON — All residents living at Simms School Apartments on 11th Avenue in Huntington have been permanently relocated after the balcony’s roof partially collapsed last week.

The former elementary school building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is awaiting an inspection by an insurance company and members of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History’s State Historic Preservation Office.

About 12 residents of the apartments, located at 1680 11th Ave., were evacuated after the balcony’s roof partially collapsed Sept. 17 following a weekend of heavy rainfall.

Those residents have moved to other properties managed by Huntington Development Corp., a sister nonprofit of the Huntington Housing Authority, which owns the building.

They were placed in vacant units at Fairfield Apartments, Huntington Garden Apartments and the Renaissance Center.

It was a lucky time to have vacancies in those buildings, said Vickie Lester, president of the Huntington Development Corp. and executive director of the Huntington Housing Authority.

Fairfield Apartments is next door to Simms School Apartments, while Huntington Garden Apartments is across the street. The Renaissance Center, located inside the old Huntington High School building on 8th Street, had some vacancies for senior citizens.

Lester said residents were provided new apartments through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 vouchers, a federal program that gives private landlords money to offset expenses to rent to low-income residents. Residents were allowed to transfer use of the vouchers from Simms School Apartments to their new apartments.

Residents were not allowed to remain in the building because the unstable roof

posed too great a danger. It’s unclear when the apartments might reopen because crews are not allowed to make repairs to the building’s facade without first consulting historical preservation officials, Lester said. The building remained closed and cordoned off Wednesday.

“We can use materials from today, but we have to maintain the original looks,” she said.

She was awaiting a reply from historical preservation officials and an insurance company this week.

What caused the roof to partially collapse has not been determined. It was likely a deficiency made during the building’s reconstruction in 1996, when it was converted into apartment units, Lester said. Huntington Development Corp. began managing the property in 1997 and had nothing to do with its reconstruction, she said.

Lester said she is aware of a roof leak at the apartments that was repaired about four years ago but doesn’t believe it factored into the collapse.

No one was injured in the collapse and Lester isn’t aware of any damage to residents’ property.

The original building, which served as an elementary school for students in Huntington’s Fairfield West neighborhood, was built in 1899. In 1907, it was named for Henry Clay Simms, a prominent Huntington attorney who served on the city’s first school board. The building closed following the 1981-82 school year and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The building is noted for its Neoclassical style by architect Richard M. Bates, which was unique to the area at the time.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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