By Sarina Trangle
The city claims the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps’ headquarters are stable, but others say its health is still hobbled.
Eight months after the corps closed its doors, city Department of Building inspectors visited the 78-15 Jamaica Ave. outpost last month and determined it was structurally sound, a DOB spokesman said.
Still, the ambulances may not be roaring in and out just yet. The shuttered furniture shop next to it, which area leaders say caused physical and financial harm to the corps since its roof buckled last spring, remains under a partial vacate order by the DOB and has a hole in its roof that causes flooding next door during storms.
The corps will likely need to clear mold in its headquarters and require help recouping months of rent lost when a senior center had to move out, according to its lawyer and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).
“The Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Ambulance Corps’ insruance company is saying, ‘We can’t go in there’… They can’t get in there to do the work or even determine the extend of the work,” Addabbo said. “We’re still at a standstill.”
The Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps said in an e-mail it had not yet gotten a clear assessment.
“The place will have to be cleared of any mold, and then after we will have to see what gear and supplies can be saved and what has to be bought new. After all that I would hope that the senior center would be able to come back,” the group wrote in an e-mail.
The corps has been financially reeling from the collapse of its neighbor’s roof, at 78-19 Jamaica Ave., in March 2013. Falling bricks and debris damaged the corps’ emergency exit, which prevented the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center from staying on as a tenant and paramedics from using the entire facility.
Then in March 2014, the corps temporarily shut its doors because melting snow from the roof next door began seeping into its headquarters.
Problems plagued the 78-19 Jamaica Ave. site before the collapse. The city had issued an order to vacate the second floor of the building just before the structure fell apart. At the time, the building had more than 30 open violations with the DOB and another eight with the city Environmental Control Board.
After the collapse, the matter wound up in court, with multiple, dueling court cases. At one point the city had a warrant out for the arrest of George Kochabe, who owns the buckled building through 78-19 Jamaica Avenue LLC, because he failed to show up in court to respond to a criminal summons stemming from hazards at the building.
A judge has since set a timeline by which Kochabe must meet various benchmarks for repairing the structure or else the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development may step in and demolish it, the DOB said.
Work at 78-19 Jamaica Ave. is ongoing.
Kochabe’s attorney, Elio Forcina, has described him as a working man diligently trying to repair the building.
Yet, Angelo DiGangi, an attorney working with York College students to represent the corps on a pro bono basis, said 78-19 Jamaica Ave. and Kochabe had been named in a civil case seeking millions for damages.
He said the insurance companies also face civil action because they were aware of neglect at 78-19 Jamaica Ave., but failed to prevent the collapse.
“I would not house farm animals in there right now, never mind senior citizens,” DiGangi said.