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Repairs being made to Lawtonian

LAWTON, Okla._There's progress to report on repairs to the Lawtonian high-rise, some six months after the building was ordered to be shut down by fire marshals. 

The apartment building was shut down in April when investigators discovered the elevators weren't working and the fire systems throughout the building weren't up to code. Since then, the owner has been working to make the necessary repairs. Tuesday, he said he's hopeful that residents will be able to move back in very soon.

The first project on the list was the roof. It had had been leaking for months, and needed to be completely replaced, and because it had been leaking through the spring rain, which caused extensive water damage and a whole number of problems followed.

"The previous operators didn't replace the holes in the roof, they just put cardboard paper down, and cardboard paper, you know, lasts about two hours," Joseph Zalar, owner of the Lawtonian said.

Joseph Zalar has owned the Lawtonian since the late 90s. He said the managers oversaw the building for the last 15 years, and didn't maintain it the way they should have.

"All they do is collect the money and run. When it had to be fixed they neglected it, so finally I said, it has to stop.' so I just told them to move out," Zalar said.

Fire Marshal Mark Mitchell said Zalar still has a lot of work that has to be done before residents can return. Even though the building has been condemned, Zalar has been allowed by the city to get the roof and some of the lighting inside the building fixed, so that he can hire a company to do a life-safety audit on the entire structure.

"Basically, they've got to employ somebody that has backgrounds in structural engineering, electrical, mechanical, plumbing in the life-safety aspects to evaluate the building and determine what needs to be done, what corrections need to be made before they can reoccupy the building," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the evaluation will be reviewed.

"Factor in what the codes require as far as life-safety issues, emergency lighting, exit lighting, egress, the ability to get out of the building in the event of an emergency," Mitchell said.

That will also likely include updates to their fire alarm and sprinkler systems. Based on those state and city codes, they'll agree on what work needs to be done. Then, contractors can obtain permits to begin the bulk of the renovation projects.

"Some significant modifications that will have to be made to get it to a standard that would meet the life safety requirements for the safety of the public, and the occupants."

Zalar estimated he will spend upwards of $400,000 on the renovations, but said the Lawtonian holds a special place in his heart and he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the building up to code.

"This is the only building in this part of Oklahoma that's totally out of concrete, steel, and brick. This is the only building that will stand forever."

The smaller building next to the Lawtonian has been fixed and reopened, and Zalar said he's hopeful to have the high-rise building ready for tenants by early 2016. The fire marshal said that may be ambitious, but didn't deem it impossible.

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