7Investigates: Water damage left unchecked at Salem shopping mall

Every time it rains or snow in Salem, Ed Walsh says parts of the ceiling in his hair salon, cave in and fall to the floor.

His salon, Julien Hair Networx, is located in the Witch City Mall. “I’m losing business. It’s very stressful,” says Ed.

It’s not just happening at Julien Hair Networx. Shops all through the mall say they are dealing with water damage to their ceilings.

“It’s a health hazard,” says Ed.

A few months ago, a post office branch in the mall had to close. Ed says he saw the roof fall down.  The movie theatre, comic book store, church and bakery have all had flooding too. On a tour through the mall with Ed, he pointed out several places where the mall’s ceiling has come down in the past.

Where is the water coming from?

Ed Walsh says pooling water from rain and melting snow has been leaking down into the mall for years.
The water is coming from the Museum Place parking garage that sits above the mall. The floor of the garage is the mall’s roof.

The city of Salem owns the garage.

“The landlords fix everything. The problem lies with the city,” says Ed.  “I’ve been to city hall 7 times, talked to 7 different people. I got agitated and I called you guys.”

David Kucharsky is Salem’s traffic and parking director. He’s been on the job for a little more than a year.
Kucharsky’s department is responsible for the garage. He says the city is trying to fix the problem.

“I know we ask for their patience. I know it’s been a while,” says Kucharsky.

What are the problems?

In 2017, the city hired a consultant to do an assessment of the garage.

“It’s really an overall look at the facility, how it stands, and some recommendations on how to fix and maintain it,” says Kucharsky. “Identify issues with drainage, any structural issues and other things.”

The 150 page consultant’s report came back in January 2018, saying many parts of the garage, including pipes, drains and concrete, were leaking, rusted or broken.

While the report said the garage “is to be considered in fair condition overall,” it went on to explain the “existing plumbing system is in poor condition,” with damaged piping, corroded pipes and drains, etc.

Poor draining causes water to pond.

“The drainage issues have further deteriorated the concrete, it’s certainly causing issues for tenants in the mall,” says Kucharsky.

The report also pointed out problems with a “water-proofing membrane,” a special coating laid over parts of the garage, that is supposed to help keep water from flowing freely. The membranes are all but deteriorated, able to easily peel away.

Plans in place

The membrane is one of the problems the city says a $1.1 million dollar project, set to start in March, will fix. This project will only focus on the first level of the garage.

“The goal of this first phase is to stop the water from getting into the mall,” says Kucharsky. “Our intent is, while that’s underway, the consultant will look at the roof and work our way down.”

The project will replace leaking joints, fill in holes in the concrete, as well as fix long-standing draining issues, according to the city.

What took so long?

Brett Marley owns the Witch City Mall. He says the city has done work on the garage in the past, but “don’t regularly do upkeep,” so the problems come back.

He told 7 News, “it’s been a slow process. I hope they take this seriously by making the repairs and implementing an ongoing maintenance program, so we aren’t right back where we started in 12 months.”

In their report, consultants noted “deferred preventative maintenance and a lack of a comprehensive restoration program over the prior 40-year history,” have led to many of the problems. Kucharsky says that won’t happen again.

“Putting forward funds to do a full assessment of the garage was really the first step. I think in the past, things were done, address something here, address something there but we wanted to have a full picture before we continued to do that,” says Kucharsky.

In 2017, the city spent $1.3 million to replace all of the stairwells, as water had caused extensive damage and the stairs were deemed unsafe to use and in 2018, the city appropriated $250,000 to rebuild both elevators, which had required regular and repeated shutdowns due to maintenance needs and water damage.

What can tenants do?

Kucharsky said tenants/business owners in the mall can file damage claims with the city solicitor’s office.

There is a City Council meeting on February 13th in the City of Salem, to finalize the details of the $1.1 million dollar project.

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, please email Sam Smink at ssmink@whdh.com.

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