AUGUSTA — A downtown restaurant closed Wednesday after city and state inspectors found leaking water and potential electrical system problems.

Gagliano’s Italian Bistro, at 287 Water St., was advised to close immediately Monday after an inspection by Sondra Clark, a state health inspector, and Rob Overton, an Augusta code enforcement officer. Overton and Lisa Silva, program manager for the state health inspection program, said officials initially went to Gagliano’s to investigate whether water from the four-story building’s leaking roof had gotten into the first-floor restaurant. They didn’t find that, but did find water from a utility sink faucet at the restaurant had leaked down into the basement, where it had gotten the electrical system wet.

“The decision was made to ask them to close immediately until they can get the electrical system checked out,” Overton said. “They need to get a licensed electrician in there to take a look to make sure it is safe to use. It’s a safety issue, not a health concern with any practices of the restaurant.”

Overton said communication from the state, not the city, prompted the restaurant to close, though he agreed the wet electrical system posed a potential hazard.

Helena Gagliano-McFarland, co-owner of Gagliano’s with other members of her family, said Wednesday they already had fixed the leaky faucet and were trying to find an electrician to inspect the electrical system. She said they’re hoping to reopen by the end of the week.

Overton’s investigation of code issues at the building started after the Greater Augusta Utility District told him that building owner Mark Zaloga had inquired about shutting off water service to the building’s sprinkler system.

Overton said the commercial building, which also has two other businesses on the first floor, is required to have a sprinkler system, and if it were shut off, all the businesses in it would be ordered to shut down.

While at the property last week, Overton and the fire chief inspected the structure and, Overton said, found “significant” code issues on the second, third and fourth floors of the building, which stands prominently near the center of the city’s downtown next to the Kennebec River. Those code issues included the upper floors having only one exit, inadequate emergency lighting and the lack of a fire alarm system.

He said they also noticed signs of water leaking through the roof, which had caused large areas of interior ceilings to collapse, and obvious signs water had penetrated the electrical system on those upper floors. Standing water was on both the third and fourth floors at the time of the inspection, and other areas had plastic tarps and buckets collecting water, Overton said.

Overton got in touch with Zaloga, a New York resident who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, told him he shouldn’t shut the sprinkler system off and issued him a letter telling him to not allow any tenants to move into the unoccupied two uppermost floors. It told him to have the building’s electrical system inspected by an electrician to ensure it meets codes within 14 days. The owner was also told to provide documentation of the most recent sprinkler inspection within 14 days, fix the leaking roof within 30 days, and submit a plan of correction addressing all alleged code violations within 90 days.

Patricia Buck, who owned the building previously until selling it two years ago, and whose own business, Patricia Buck Bridal, is on the first floor, said the building is safe and both the electrical and sprinkler systems had just been inspected and deemed up to code. Her business was not affected by the problems on the upper floors, Overton said.

Buck declined to comment further, other than noting that the part of the building where her business and Forbidden Fruit, a retail shop at 285 Water St., are located is up to code, and she thinks the building is one of the safest in the area because it has a sprinkler system.

Another tenant, Legalize Maine, has an office on the second floor. Overton said that tenant reported that no water had entered its office space.

Overton said he didn’t know why Zaloga had inquired about shutting down the water system.

Gagliano-McFarland said improper building maintenance has caused her business other problems, such as a heating system failure in the winter and burst upstairs pipes causing water to leak into the restaurant and Forbidden Fruit.

She said Buck is the building manager.

Gagliano-McFarland was unsure why the building owner had expressed interest in shutting down the sprinkler system but speculated it might have been because of water pipes bursting on the upper floors. She said she was “exhausted” because of the lack of upkeep and frustrated by the owner’s inquiry about shutting off the sprinklers.

“He was trying to do that unbeknownst to us,” she said of Zaloga. “If he does that, we’re going to close for good, because the building would no longer be suitable. If the building gets shut down, my business gets shut down. We’re a family-owned business, and we’re here because we’re trying to help revive the downtown of Augusta. At this point, we might consider moving. We’ll see how things work out if the building is brought back up to code.”

Silva, with the state health inspection program, said Gagliano’s can reopen after it has a licensed electrician certify the system in that part of the building is OK. She said the state deemed the electrical hazard to be an imminent hazard. She confirmed the restaurant was not cited for any food safety problems, just for the water that had infiltrated the electrical system.

Overton said city officials sought to work with the building owner to address problems there before taking official action. He said fixing the code problems could be costly, but the owner had expressed interest in bringing the structure up to code by at least seeking information from the city about what the codes require.

“The last thing anybody in the city wants to do is close a business in the downtown or take any action that causes a business downtown, or anywhere in the city, to close,” Overton said. “We certainly hope he’s able to bring the building up to code. That doesn’t just benefit his building, but all of downtown.”

However, he noted the recent fires that heavily damaged buildings in downtown Gardiner, which started in a building that didn’t have a sprinkler system, illustrate the importance of the issue.

“Looking at this building, and the potential for the sprinkler system being shut off, especially with the fire in Gardiner happening so recently, anything the community can do to avoid something like that, we’re going to take any step we can,” he said.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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