LEWISTON, Maine — A broken door, shattered windows, a floor covered with trash and walls ripped open to show where the copper plumbing once was. Jeff Baril, Lewiston police and code enforcement officer, said there are hundreds of buildings just like that downtown right now.
This week, the city is mostly concerned with 86 of them.
Four of the city’s community resource officers, stationed at the department’s Bates Street Substation, have been given the job of inspecting the properties on the city’s list of vacant, abandoned and condemned buildings.
Their job is to document each building’s condition — whether it is locked up tight or has broken windows and doors, how much trash has been left on floor and what shape the interior is in.
They pass that along to City Hall, which is hiring contractors to visit each building, clear out the trash and seal it up with boards on all the windows and doors.
“It’s going to be expensive,” said Sgt. Robert Ullrich. “But it’s what we need to do. It’s what has to happen right now.”
The effort is part of the city’s response to the series of fires that have burned downtown and an effort to make sure the empty tenements really are vacant and as fireproof as they can be.
By Tuesday morning, the team of four officers had visited 28 properties on the city’s abandoned list.
Officer Charles Weaver said one of buildings stood out in his mind, a building on Lincoln Street. The doors and windows were blocked, the building was empty and the walls had been opened to the timbers. There were no copper pipes to steal, no trash left to pick through and no mattresses left behind to make squatters or other criminals comfortable.
That was the only one.
Most have been like the buildings at 178-180 Holland Street — a three-apartment building with a single-family-sized home in the back. It was occupied until last spring when the last tenant died. It’s been set upon by trespassers since then.
All of the doors have been kicked open — one has been completely torn off its frame. Many of the recently installed vinyl windows have been broken and the walls are gaping up, thanks to copper thieves. The neat wood floors are covered 6-inches deep with trash — fast food bags and cups, cartons from beer and soda six packs, and soiled clothes and bed sheets.
“This was a good building at one time,” Baril said. “You could see that someone cared for it at some point.”
Neighbors Awadia Abushag and Leah Hersom say they watch the building warily, especially in wake of the fires.
“I feel like we are farther away from everything that’s happening, but it’s close enough to feel uncomfortable,” Hersom said.
Baril said every building has a story. At 92 Walnut St., for example, the building owner died last spring, leaving an empty building and green Subaru wagon parked along side — but no will or papers giving his children property rights.
It too became a magnet for criminal activity, and both the building and the car have been picked apart.
“This broken window is wide open, and there’s a mattress and a chair sitting right next to it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean people are staying here and living here. This could be an area where they come for any number of illegal activities — prostitution, drugs. Any way you slice it, it’s all criminal trespass.”
Ullrich said police patrols will be paying special attention to those buildings, especially once they are closed up for good. They ask neighbors to call if they see anyone strange passing through, and trespassers will be arrested.
And once they’ve finished working through the 86 addresses on the city’s abandoned building list, Ullrich said the plan is to to start look at the rest of the downtown.
“Maybe there are some we don’t know about, or are not on the list or have problems with trash built up around them,” Ullrich said. “We can start identifying the next steps. If there is a landlord attached, the Code Enforcement office can address it with them.”