Sunday, June 23, 2024

Somerville’s Armory building. (Photo: Marc Levy)

After more than a year since Somerville’s seizing of the Armory arts building, the commissioner of Public Works has released a maintenance report detailing the building’s decay, without mentioning that a tenant has entered into a verbal agreement with the city to fulfill janitorial duties.

Made up of input from Armory tenants and the commissioner of Public Works, the report outlines plans for maintaining the building amid its transformation into a community arts center. It was shared at a Feb. 13 meeting of the Somerville City Council Public Utilities and Public Works Committee.

Ward 5 Councilor Beatriz Gomez Mouakad said when the city acquired the building, it had many deficiencies. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been the best at our maintenance and upkeep,” Gomez Mouakad said, mentioning rat infestations, faulty door locks, leaking roofs and basement flooding as persisting issues. Gomez Mouakad said she will ask that DPW provide detailed maintenance reports on the Armory every six months.

Come May, the city will have been in possession of the Armory for two years. “We’re still not moving forward with a clear solution or a clear business plan. So that to me, as a ward councilor, is concerning,” Gomez Mouakad said.

According to the report, DPW will continue to handle technical repairs. But the department’s crews have failed to address urgent issues in the past. In May 2021, the building’s only elevator was shut down for months after its safety certificate expired. The elevator worked but was unusable because no staff had been on hand to open the mechanicals room during an unannounced inspection, which was postponed indefinitely.

Alongside technical upkeep is janitorial work, which the report does not cover. Rather than hire a janitorial staff, the city has commissioned Jack Donaghue, a 69 year-old Armory tenant who owns Audiotech Services, to carry out janitorial duties for credit toward his rent.

“That was never officially established, so I wanted to understand what was happening there,” Gomez Mouakad said.

Donaghue said he began “helping out” the previous owner of the Armory, Joseph Sater, by replacing light bulbs, fixing doors, distributing fire extinguishers and performing other handiwork after the building laid off its janitor at the start of the Covid pandemic. “I was working for Joseph against rent,” Donaghue said in an interview Thursday.

When the city took over, Donaghue still had the key to the maintenance closet, which he accessed to stock the Armory’s bathrooms. At one point, Donaghue said, the city asked him whether he would be willing to continue helping to maintain the building.

Donaghue said he cannot recall whom he spoke with, and that the agreement “was pretty much word of mouth,” but that the city continues to reduce his rent in exchange for janitorial labor. City spokeswoman Denise Taylor didn’t respond to an email sent Wednesday seeking comment.