BELLEFONTE — Fire investigators spent Monday sifting through charred remains and wading through interviews.
But questions remain unanswered about the early Sunday morning fire that destroyed the Garman Hotel Building, claiming another historic downtown building and leaving dozens displaced.
Bellefonte Fire Department Chief Tim Schreffler said investigators are still collecting information about the blaze and are not ready to rule on what caused the fire or where it started.
We want to make sure we have all the information ... from peoples behavior to witness statements, he said. Its all important when you do an investigation of a situation of this magnitude.
Schreffler noted this type of investigation is standard protocol for such a major fire. While he did not provide a time frame, he said an investigation to determine the cause will continue.
Meanwhile, Bellefonte officials hope the latest blaze to claim a prominent downtown building will renew talks of how to prevent it from happening again.
It upsets me greatly that we could potentially lose another structure, said Borough Councilman Walt Schneider. Lets roll up our sleeves, sit down and ask, How do we solve this.
Part of that discussion likely will revolve around the use of sprinkler systems in downtown buildings, officials said.
The Hotel Do De building, which was also destroyed in the fire Sunday, did not have sprinklers, Schreffler said.
There is (a) definitive advantage of a sprinklered building, Schreffler said Monday. It can keep the fire in check until firefighters arrive, minimizing fire damage.
Schneider, who serves as codes director at the Centre Region Code Agency, said new buildings, under state law, must include sprinkler systems if they meet certain criteria based on size, occupancy and construction materials.
That law does not apply to existing buildings unless certain changes are made such as renovating from office space to an apartment building.
If you have an existing building today, under laws today, as long as you dont change anything, there is nothing that triggers it, Schneider said.
He said municipalities can tighten those regulations by passing an ordinance, but must then go through a hearing process with the state. The borough could face challenges from home and business owners who might balk at the costs.
An official estimated retrofitting an old building with a sprinkler system could cost $3 a square foot. Additional costs can be incurred if there is insufficient water pressure in the building.
Its a very difficult discussion to have, Schneider said. Youve got the fabric of the borough (its historic buildings) versus a private owners interest in the building and what they are willing to spend. We are in tough economic times.
He said borough officials, the fire department, building owners and tenants must be better informed on how to prevent fires.
Simply managing garbage and refuse may prevent a fire, and that doesnt cost anything, Schneider said.
The owner of the Hotel Do De, meanwhile, said Sunday night that he plans to reopen his business elsewhere.
Ill be looking to see what I could buy, John Dann Sr. said. Im not ready to hang it up yet.
Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said the borough is trying to look ahead, and will push efforts to rebuild should Dann choose to move elsewhere.
He said officials would look for an infill building a new structure designed to blend into the architecture of the block.
I know other communities that have lost buildings similar to the Do De, Stewart said. We would look to those for some guidance, suggestions.
He mentioned office space or a hotel as possible tenants for a new downtown building. The borough will reach out to the county and developers looking at other parcels to gauge interest in the location.
At this point, were obviously devastated, Stewart said. But were going to try to look ahead, put another building back in its place that fits.
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter