Roof collapse at Bayside Expo triggers gas rupture, evacuations

Boston firefighters on the scene of today's roof collapse at the old Bayside Expo Center. Photo by Lauren Dezenski

In the latest mark of a winter of discontent, a partial roof collapse at the vacant former Bayside Expo Center on Wednesday morning ruptured a gas line, prompting the evacuation of a neighboring building on Mount Vernon Street and the cutting off of power to nearby buildings. No injuries were reported as a result of the incident.

A section of the roof collapsed at roughly 7 a.m., according to UMass Boston, which owns the property, and Boston Fire Department officials and the debris came down on a gas line, fracturing a pipe. The collapse, at 200 Mount Vernon St., set off the building’s sprinkler system, alerting the fire department, spokesman Steve MacDonald told the Reporter.

The adjacent Bayside Office Center, home to the Corcoran Jennison Cos., SEIU Local 99, the state’s Registry of Vital Statistics, and the Dorchester Reporter, was evacuated until noon due to the gas situation and power to the office center and the nearby DoubleTree hotel was cut off as crews shut down utilities in the area.

Boston Fire responded with its technical rescue response that involves firefighters trained to specifically respond to a gas leak. Two helicopters circled overhead as two ladder trucks were deployed to survey the damage to the Expo Center structure.

UMass Boston purchased the Expo property –a 275,000-square-foot building with an adjacent 20 acres for parking – for $18.7 million in 2010 and commissioned a report that found the building in “fair to poor” condition with “multiple deficiencies” noted. “We knew at that time that the Expo Center was not repairable and the cost of turning it into classrooms was prohibitive. It has been closed since then,” said UMass Boston spokesperson DeWayne Lehman on Wednesday.

The university is planning to demolish the building this summer, according to Lehman, and had not been shoveling the roof. “The major concern with snow on roofs is the safety of individuals and we did not want to put people on a roof and compromise their safety. We made a conscious decision to not put people in harm’s way.”

Originally built as a shopping center in 1966, the Bayside site was converted into an exhibition hall in 1982. That was the last major renovation, which included roofing over several outdoor spaces, and upgrade to construction codes and standards.

The location has been mentioned as a likely candidate for the Athletes Village should Boston win the 2024 Summer Olympics Games. Both the adjacent Boston Teachers Union and DoubleTree have said they will go on with expansion plans despite the Olympics possibilities.

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