The Jerome Grand Hotel is safe and should not have been closed by Jerome building officials Dec. 8, according to safety engineer Larry Litchfield, who testified in Yavapai County Superior Court on Friday, Jan. 7.
Litchfield, who once headed building departments for the cities of San Francisco and Phoenix, testified on behalf of the hotel's owners.
Judge Tina Ainley said the hotel “substantially” met its burden, meaning a preliminary injunction directing town officials to allow the hotel to reopen may be justified.
Nevertheless, Ainley did not issue the injunction and instead continued the hearing until Friday, Jan. 14, at 3:30 p.m. to allow the town to present its side of the case.
The proceedings Jan. 7 concluded after two hours of testimony from Litchfield and hotel owner Larry Altherr.
Litchfield testified the hotel was in “very, very good shape” and should be considered “non-combustible,” he told Ainley. “It will not burn.”
The hotel was constructed entirely of concrete in 1926 in compliance with building codes that existed at the time. It was improper for the town to require the building to comply with modern-day building codes when other methods were used to make it just as safe as if it did comply, Litchfield said.
Smoke and heat detection devices throughout the hotel, including individual smoke detectors in each room, water sprinklers, emergency lighting and upgrades to standing pipes, in order to accomodate Jerome Fire Department equipment, made the building very safe, Litchfield said.
“It’s the safest building in Jerome,” Altherr testified.
Litchfield and Altherr testified the town’s decision to revoke the hotel’s certificate of occupancy caused “irreparable damage” to its reputation.
A certificate of occupancy should not be revoked unless a building is unstable and will create a life safety issue that is imminent, Litchfield testified.
“The [Jerome Grand] Hotel is very solid,” Litchfield told Ainley. “I was impressed with the maintenance. It’s in very, very good shape.”
Altherr testified the business and building together were valued at $7.5 million. Closure of the hotel was costing roughly $17,000 a month and $2,000 a day in lost revenue. Hotel employees who had to be laid off have applied for unemployment insurance, he said.
Litchfield also said notices delivered to the Altherrs asking them to correct problems were confusing and failed to inform them of precisely what changes or improvements the town required. The town acted too quickly and denied the Altherrs due process, he said.
The notices failed to delineate the alleged violations of the building and fire code, failed to set forth the process hotel owners had to follow to correct problems or seek an appeal and failed to identify the town officials they needed to contact, Litchfield said.
“If one of my staff had prepared that notice I would have told them to throw it away and start over,” he told Ainley.
Representatives for Jerome declined to comment at the conclusion of the Jan. 7 proceedings.
“I think the judge ruled I met my burden of proof,” John E. Phillips, a lawyer for the hotel, said after the hearing. “This is my second ride on this rodeo. I had another case where they tried to do this. This town is out of control.”