LEWISTON — A broken-down door, shattered windows and walls ripped open to show where the copper plumbing once was: hundreds of buildings in the downtown look just like that, Code Enforcement/police officer Jeffrey Baril said Tuesday.
This week, the city is mostly concerned with 86 of those buildings.
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 the conditions — whether it is locked up tight or has broken windows and doors, how much trash has been left on the 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 of the doors and windows.
"It's going to be expensive," Sgt. Robert Ullrich said, "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 downtown fires and an effort to make sure the empty tenements are vacant and as fire-proof as can be.
By Tuesday morning, the team of four officers had visited 28 properties on the city's abandoned buildings list.
Officer Charles Weaver said a building on Lincoln Street stood out: 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 comfortable.
That was the only one.
Most have been like the buildings at 178-180 Holland St., 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 has since been set upon by trespassers.
All of the doors have been kicked open, one completely torn off its frame. Many of the recently installed vinyl windows have been broken and the walls are gaping, thanks to copper thieves. The neat wood floors are covered 6 inches deep with trash, including fast-food bags and cups, cartons from beer and soda six-packs and soiled clothes and bedsheets.
"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 the wake of the recent 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., the owner died last spring, leaving an empty building and a green Subaru wagon parked alongside it. He left no will or papers giving his children property rights.
It too became a magnet for criminal activity, and both building and 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. Trespassers will be arrested.
Once they've finished working through the 86 addresses on the city's abandoned-building list, they will look at the rest of the downtown, Ullrich said.
"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."