Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Longtime art glass business in jeopardy after city declares studio uninhabitable

September 4, 2013


A preservation project involving a historic East Lawrence building has taken a turn that may spell the end of a longtime Lawrence glass studio.

Free State Glass has been forced out of its home of nearly 30 years at 307 E. Ninth St., after a portion of the historic building housing the studio was declared unfit for habitation by the city.

"This may have killed Free State Glass," co-owner Dick Rector said of the business that has gained a national reputation for its handmade glass items that range from paperweights to chandeliers. "I don't know yet."

The Turnhalle building at the southwest corner of Ninth and Rhode Island Streets.

The Turnhalle building at the southwest corner of Ninth and Rhode Island Streets.

The condemnation notice came after city inspectors found large amounts of mold in the basement of the building, which is where Free State's studio is. The building is the 1869 Turnhalle building, which was purchased by the Lawrence Preservation Alliance last fall after officials became concerned about the condition of the building.

At issue is a leaking roof that has allowed large amounts of water to enter the building and significant amounts of mold to grow in the basement. On that, all parties agree. But the parties disagree on whether the Lawrence Preservation Alliance has dropped the ball on the project.

"I know they are all good people, but right now it seems like a willful disregard for our business, our people, our health and our rights as tenants by the officials of LPA," Rector said.

Dennis Brown, president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, said the nonprofit organization had acted responsibly, but was put in a tough situation because of the deterioration of the building.

"It is unfortunate that this has happened at this particular time," Brown said. "I sure wish the building could have hung in there a little longer. I feel for them in that sense. But it is not due to any negligence on LPA's part."

Brown said the LPA had roofing professionals undertake some repairs on the roof earlier this year, but it was determined that there wasn't a feasible way to do a short-term fix. Instead, significant structural repairs were needed. LPA has won a $125,000 grant from Douglas County to repair the roof, but Brown said the earliest that work could be designed and started is in November.

"If we had put a roof on right away, we would have been tearing it off right now and doing it right," Brown said.

Rector thinks an interim repair could have been made to the roof, if the LPA would have acted more quickly. Regardless, he said the situation he and his business partner find themselves in isn't fair. The city's order makes it difficult for the company to even get its equipment out of the building. Rector said the company doesn't have new space lined up for the business, and the shut-down comes at a time when the glass studio is supposed to be busy making items for the holiday season.

"I have clients who are expecting glass, and they aren't going to get any this year," Rector said.

He said he's unsure of what the future holds for the glass studio.

"I'm depressed about it and pretty worried. I don't see how to come out of this without starting over, and I don't know if I have that in me," said Rector, 54.

A city official said there was little choice but to declare the basement of the structure unfit for habitation because of the large amounts of mold.

"It is a damp, wet space that is really good for mold growth," said Brian Jimenez, the city's codes enforcement manager. "I know the tenants would like to stay. I know the owners would like to do repairs, but their start date isn't until this fall. But today, it is just not a sanitary condition."

Brown said he's unsure of whether Free State should ever plan to return its business to the Turnhalle building. But Brown said he is still confident that LPA will be successful in improving the condition of the building. He said the roof project, which also will include other improvements to make the building watertight, could be done by March.

At that point, he said the LPA will become more aggressive in trying to find a buyer who is willing to finish the restoration of the building and put it back to use.

"I think they need to be looking for another location," Brown said. "We've never planned on being the long-term owner for the building, so that alone has kind of put them in a state of flux."

Brown said it is unfortunate that Free State Glass has had its business unexpectedly disrupted, but he said the incident is a reminder of why LPA bought the issue in the first place.

"We bought Turnalle because we knew something like this was about to happen," Brown said of the roof failure. "Our feeling was that if we didn't step in and buy the Turnhalle, it wasn't going to be around in a couple of years. In that sense, we haven't been surprised."


Matthew Herbert 4 years, 9 months ago

$125,000 to just repair a roof? That can't be right

local_interest 4 years, 9 months ago

If there is structural damage to the roof, which there probably is based on the last time I was in that building (about a year ago), it wouldn't surprise me.

Especially on an building this age.

Budgets_Smudgets 4 years, 9 months ago

The primary roof has an extensive and substantial sub-roof structure with huge timbers and lots of cross-bracing which I am sure must have damage and be the reason for high cost here. (and I think the back end of the building has a separate roof structure). The ceilings were designed to support aerial acrobatics, literally, and similar high loads. Read up on the Turner Society. These buildings (Turnhalles) were some of the nations first multi-purpose gymnasiums...

George_Braziller 4 years, 9 months ago

If it's been leaking for years it could easily be that much and more for a roof that size. Once the shingles come off the extent of the damage from water will be evident. Most likely there will be rafters which need to be replaced and the entire roof will have to be re-sheathed before shingles can even go on.

And once it's opened up the full extent of damage will be exposed.which means it will end up costing even more to deal with the structural issues.

The previous owner held onto it for decades but never maintained it which is why it's in the current condition.

cowboy 4 years, 9 months ago

The new owners LPA bought the building a year ago and have done nothing to repair the roof. Amateur do gooders in action .

peartree 4 years, 9 months ago

Um, haven't they been securing funding and getting bids and estimates? They DID do a quick fix on the roof to hold up until the major work began. If they hadn't bought it, it would still be in this condition without a plan to fix it. If you want to blame anyone, blame the owner who let it get this far downhill.

I'm also impressed by the fact that Rector thinks it's perfectly alright to house his employees in a mold-filled basement. Healthy adults exposed to black mold for days on end can die of pneumonia. And then he has the audacity to say the city isn't thinking of the health of his employees? As if he were clueless for years about the deterioration his working environment? I don't know him, but I've always heard good things about his staff. I really hope they can relocate.

broddie 4 years, 9 months ago

When you're wrong, you're wrong. Sorry......

"The possibility that a person who is not severely ill, or whose immune system is not compromised from disease or suppressant medicines, exhibiting any reaction to a mycotoxin is practically nonexistent as shown by the total lack of scientific evidence showing a direct link between a specific mycotoxin and any disease or symptom."

peartree 4 years, 9 months ago

I don't thing quoting an air purification business is a good source. Here's the summary from the World Health Organization's guidelines for indoor air quality: dampness and mould:

"Sufficient epidemiological evidence is available from studies conducted in different countries and under different climatic conditions to show that the occupants of damp or mouldy buildings, both houses and public buildings, are at increased risk of respiratory symptoms, respiratory infections and exacerbation of asthma. Some evidence suggests increased risks of allergic rhinitis and asthma. Although few intervention studies are available, their results show that remediation of dampness problems can reduce adverse health outcomes. There is clinical evidence that exposure to mould and other dampness-related microbial agents increases the risks of rare conditions, such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic alveolitis, chronic rhinosinusitis and allergic fungal sinusitis. Toxicological evidence obtained in vivo and in vitro supports these findings, showing the occurrence of diverse inflammatory and toxic responses after exposure to microorganisms – including their spores, metabolites and components – isolated from damp buildings. While groups such as atopic and allergic people are particularly susceptible to biological and chemical agents in damp indoor environments, adverse health effects have also been found in nonatopic populations."

The CDC and OSHA also have good information.

wrector 4 years, 9 months ago

LPA was notified in May of the mold growth, didn't respond. LPA was notified in writing the first week in June that the mold problem was growing and that the space had become unusable and was asked to do something, no response, no action. Notified again in July, no response, no action. Finally August 12 LPA cut out part of the wet moldy carpet. August 19 the space was condemned Good works LPA

peartree 4 years, 9 months ago

So, I'm assuming you are Rector. Did you know there was a lot of mold, and you told them, but they didn't respond? Did you file a complaint with the city about your landlord's lack of response to the danger? I understand you have been there a long time and don't want to move, but your staff deserve, both ethically and legally, a safe working environment. It is your landlord's obligation to keep things up to code, but it is yours to assure your employees a safe place to work. If it was obvious to you that things weren't safe months ago, and you continued to operate, don't you think you are responsible to exposing them to potentially toxic mold? LPA may not have treated you well. They may care more about saving an historic building than your business. I have no idea. That doesn't mean you have no responsibility for the well-being of your staff.

Budgets_Smudgets 4 years, 9 months ago

That building has been decrepit for years. Everyone knows it, especially Free State Glass. Finally, the owner made a very difficult decision for him to sell, no less to the only group in town that wants to fix up and improve the building in a historically sensitive manner. And now Free State Glass complains because the LPA can't turn on a dime and fix decades of neglect in a few weeks?!?!? Jeez guys, you have been cheating the deterioration ghost for years! And now you want to blame LPA??? Ha Ha.

wrector 4 years, 9 months ago

Hi Peartree, !st -I believed LPA would do something so I did not go straight to the city, 2nd-nobody was working in the Free State Glass space during the months of June , July Or August because we were off for the summer until August and then we stayed out of there because of the mold so no one was exposed to the hazards except Jim and I, 3rd-our lease states that if an untenable situation occurs the landlord may terminate the lease within 30 days OR remedy the situation with rent to be abated until such repairs are made. LPA did not option to terminate and denied our right to have rent abated so we kept waiting for the mold to be treated while keeping everyone out, 4th-Brown and LPA talk about the bad roof but still have not acknowlwdged that a mold problem exists and that is the issue. LPA can wait as long as they like to fix or not fix a building but they gave up that option when they became a landlord and accepted rent and the legal responsibilities that come with it. That is why I say this has been intentionnal disregard on their part. We never had a water or mold issue before LPA's stopgap roof repair and they have been aware of the issue for months

peartree 4 years, 9 months ago

Thank you, wrector. That makes much more sense and should have been in the article. I'm glad the staff hasn't been in there for months. I hope you are able to get back your rent money from August, at least. I think the LPA is trying to ultimately do the right thing, and I'm sure given the nature of such organizations it's tricky to get everyone on track, but given what you said I also think this article is slanted against you. I guess I should know better by now.

Eugehne Normandin 4 years, 9 months ago

why can't they move the business somewhere else ?

local_interest 4 years, 9 months ago

They can, but it would probably be very expensive.

Budgets_Smudgets 4 years, 9 months ago

...I also suspect they pay far below market rent because they are in a decrepit building. Poor business model in the long run, as I think they are discovering.

chootspa 4 years, 9 months ago

They'd have to rebuild their kilns somewhere else, most likely, and they're looking at weeks or months of lost productivity time to move.

blindrabbit 4 years, 9 months ago

Best wishes to getting this resolved quickly. But I have wondered how and why a glass blowing operation is located in that building with the fire potential associated with that kind of business. I would think this might be a good opportunity for the business to seek another location (perhaps over in the new Art's District) There is space over in that area and the closeness of other "art's" businesses might be beneficial. Good luck!!

bRb 4 years, 9 months ago

Someone who doesn't know what they are doing cooking tempura is a bigger fire hazard than professionals working with fire. Free State Glass has been there for nearly 30 years. (before the 'new Arts District') I figure 20% of the history in that building IS FreeStateGlass. Some of the money collected to 'preserve it' should be used to support/preserve this tenant, who is also an historical part of the art & craft community in Lawrence. Not to mention that the LPA was asked to go check flood damage over 3 months ago, then they show up and suddenly condemn the place. Common disregard...

jhawk1998 4 years, 9 months ago

Sounds like another condemnation land grab. I will be watching to see which of the city's rich developers ends up with this piece of property.

Bursting 4 years, 9 months ago

Nail has absolutely been hit directly on the frickin head!!!

deec 4 years, 9 months ago

Oh, I think it's pretty obvious which one has his eye on expanding his corner.

patkindle 4 years, 9 months ago

I thought the glass shop was in another old build down the street before this building changed hands the last time,so the glass show hasn't been their too long, if they moved there why cant the move again ?? it sounds like a viable business.

bRb 4 years, 9 months ago

Why don't you do some research before you post? They have been there for about 30 years, or 20% of that buildings entire history. They were Free State before the high school and before the brewery... A part of history! Also they phoned, and wrote the owners(yes, the LPA themselves) about the problem repeatedly for months before the LPA came and played their joker card.

dontcallmedan 4 years, 9 months ago

patkindle--please stop posting if you can't even spend a few minutes to read the article.

seenitall 4 years, 9 months ago

I think something like a tarp over the problem area was within the capabilities of the LPA and for whatever reason they chose and continue to choose to do nothing. Their obligation as a landlord is to do something. I guess sometimes you have to destory something to save it (like Iraq). The sooner this building gets into some competent hands the better because I don't think that place can withstand any more "saving" by the LPA.

Budgets_Smudgets 4 years, 9 months ago

You mean someone like the previous owner who did not touch the building for decades?

Deb Stavin 4 years, 9 months ago

I wonder if Eric Kirkendall could help these guys out by setting them up at his Lawrence Creates Makerspace? It would save the glass business and give the Makerspace members an opportunity to see the glasswork being done. Maybe even help with production in some way.

Matt Schwartz 4 years, 9 months ago

Tarp on the roof while funds were secured would have been better than allowing more rain into a known existing problem....and if you opened up any of the walls of those older buildings, most of them would have a large amount of mold. Has any of the other historic societies stepped in? This building is worth saving. Brian , start working on removing all those dangerous couches off of the porches.

richfree 4 years, 9 months ago

$125 K for a new roof plus roof structure repairs still is about 4x what it should be. LPA needs to put the project out on bids, repair the building, and take care of the mold problem. Whats so difficult?? FSG is a great small business for Lawrence, lets keep them going !

hedshrinker 4 years, 9 months ago

sure proves the law of unintended consequences....incredibly sad if this longterm flourishing local creative arts business is driven out by other entities trying to do the right thing: preserving historical buildings and preserving the public's health. hopefully FSG will be able to find other adequate temporary quarters to carry on AND the bldg will be saved.

WilburM 4 years, 9 months ago

Of course, the building became decrepit through the decades-long ownership of Rod Ernst (and his family). They never put anything into the building, FSG glass got cheap space, and everything deteriorated. At some point a developer may take over the building, but it will be a long haul, and whoever does it is in for lots of expenses. Still, worth doing as that part of town improves and 9th St. develops out toward the new developments on the East Side.

EarthaKitt 4 years, 9 months ago

So I guess this means no more Christmas parties? The LPA's heart is clearly two sizes too small.

verity 4 years, 9 months ago

Free State Glass is a Lawrence treasure and the location is part of the charm. I hope you can find a new permanent home that works for you and not have to deal with moving twice.

seenitall 4 years, 9 months ago

The LPA did understand what they were getting into but they totally failed. I just hope the building can survive their ownership. The sooner the building is out of their hands the greater the chance the building will survive. As far as Free State Glass goes the LPA never gave a s#$@ about them and this is a way to get them out with out taking ANY resposibility.

LogicMan 4 years, 9 months ago

What did LPA pay for the building? And how much less is it worth now with this news?

irvan moore 4 years, 9 months ago

free state glass was an important part of the east lawrence art community before there was a new trendy east side arts community so it would be nice if something could be figured out to save it. remember the article when the preservation people bought the building talking about how important it was to keep free state glass there and get the income from that space, i'm pretty sure free state kept up with the rent so it would be expected that the landlord would meet their obligations

FlintlockRifle 4 years, 9 months ago

Me thinks the owner of the new building to the west might have something to do with this, just my 2 cents worth======

cowboy 4 years, 9 months ago

Read the story in the above link with the LPA president just this april gloating about buying the building. Read further about his vision of a restored community building , a beer garden , and that they , the LPA , will not be accomplishing any of that but the new owners will. Note there is not a single mention of Free State Glass. The LPA knew what they wanted months ago and to use their own term , condemnation by neglect , they have forced FreeState to relocate by using the city to condemn it.

This is a back door process now exposed and the LPA dirty laundry is stinkin up the neighborhood.

I encourage the community to stop contributing any financial support to LPA. And I hope that Free State Glass can find an appropriate studio with a reputable owner to continue their business.

cowboy 4 years, 9 months ago

Is it LPA's words , or their actions that seem to have gotten by you

gccs14r 4 years, 9 months ago

It's not just finding a space, it's getting the equipment out of the existing space. If they have to put people in hazmat suits to effect the move, that'll make it that much more expensive.

Some of the rehabbed space down at 9th & Pennsylvania might accommodate them, though.

patkindle 4 years, 9 months ago

if free state glass Is such a cash cow, with a national reputation for its handmade glass items , they should be able to buy or build a new building , let them move on from the lpa

webmocker 4 years, 9 months ago

patkindle "if free state glass Is such a cash cow . . . let them move on from the lpa

Where does the article suggest FSG is a "cash cow?"

akt2 4 years, 9 months ago

If a business can afford to take off and close down for summer, maybe they could afford to move. It sounds like they will have lots of help and a good future if they can get the right space. Maybe expand and be better off in the long run.

roadwarrior 4 years, 9 months ago

This seems like very poor project management on the part of LPA. Is a tarp to keep the rain out too complex for a preservation orgainization ? LPA, can't just shrug.

Michael Shaw 4 years, 9 months ago

There is more to this story than we are seeing here.

Boston_Corbett 4 years, 9 months ago

Reading between the lines, it seems like Free State Glass contacted the city about the mold in a naive effort to protect their rights as a tenant. They seemingly either wanted a termination of lease or instantly fixed roof.

Guess what? Involving the city has done nothing but make the building declared inhabitable. Free State did that, not LPA. Now FSG complains about the situation they helped create.

Had the building not been sold to LPA, the identical situation would have probably occurred this summer, because Mr. Enst did not have the assets, or inclinations, to fix the building.... which was the underlying problem anyway. Sounds like the rents have been too low for decades, which allowed the entire structure to fall into increasing disrepair. FSG took advantage of those low lease prices, and should have easily understood the roof on that monster could have go at any time. An expectation for an instant repair on a dubious cheaply maintained building is a nice one to have as a tenant, but not always a reasonable expectation. (And by the way, a tarp on a roof doesn't necessarily solve a complex roof leak issue.)

roadwarrior 4 years, 9 months ago

Uh, does. We use them constantly while re roofing to protect the structure in the event of rain. Just taught you a new trick dude.

wrector 4 years, 9 months ago

all we ever asked for was for a landlord to take steps, any steps at all, to fix a little mold issue. No response and no attempt to fix for about 90 days CAUSED a big problem. LPA broke the lease.

seenitall 4 years, 9 months ago

I suspect that this problem is not going to be solved in this forum. LPA took on the job of landlord when they bought the building but neglected to perform in that capacity. LPA attempted to fix a leak and could not and then buried their head in the sand. Even if a tarp would not of totally eliminated the leak it would of helped or at least shown that they were attemping to do something. I smell a law suit before this thing is over and I don't know what leg the LPA can stand on. I also don't see how the LPA can escape their responsiblity to mitigate the mold problem unless they are planning to leave that for the next owner. How many more inches of rainfall are going to enter that building before Nov? It is not too late to do something for the building but it is for those guys at Free State Glass. So....LPA hold your head high with your "good works"

Boston_Corbett 4 years, 9 months ago

If you rent an old broken down building which hasn't had maintenance done for decades you run a significant business risk for what could happen.

When you attempt to blame the problem on a group trying to correct this this situation, you reveal either significant naivete, and/or lack of character. Playing martyr doesn't suit you guys well.

Bursting 4 years, 9 months ago

There had never been a mold problem in the past. How is contacting a landlord about a problem a landlord is supposed to fix considered "blaming the problem on a group trying to correct the situation"?

To notify the landlord of problems is standard procedure, in fact it would probably break the lease terms if FSG attempted any repairs on their own.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Landlords are responsible for maintenance and upkeep, not tenants.

Response to BC, not Bunting.

seenitall 4 years, 9 months ago

Exactly what action was taken to CORRECT the problem? A lease is a contract, each party has resposibilities. I suspect the city got involved because the LPA wouldn't do anything. Hopefully the LPA will either stop the water from coming in the building or get the building to someone who is competent enough to figure out a solution..... Blaming the tenant for lack of action by the LPA doesn't help either

roadwarrior 4 years, 9 months ago

Boston Corbett: If you rent OUT an old broken down building which hasn't had maintenance done for decades you run a significant business risk for what could happen.

There, fixed it for you. And a little advice, if you own and lease rental property ? seek legal advice and increase your insurance policy immediately.

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