Progress on hold at ‘The Rat’ as structural problems emerge

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Diane Fountain is seeing her plans to open the Ramshead Rathskeller delayed once again.

Fountain hoped to open in 2010, then in August 2011 and then in early 2012 — but each time, she said, she hit roadblocks.

Now, construction for the Rathskeller, also known as “The Rat,” is stalled after a demolition crew found two splitting and sagging ceiling beams.

“That entire part of the ceiling, you can pick at it with your fingers and it comes off like rice paper,” Fountain said. “It is completely broken.”

Fountain said after she found the broken beams she had town inspectors look at them, and they recommended that the construction crew vacate the premises until the beams were fixed.

“We were discouraged, but we’re not giving up,” she said. “We’re reopening the Rathskeller.”

Temporary contention beams secure the building in the meantime, said Scott Bullock, general manager for the Rat.

“That floor was near to collapsing,” Bullock said. “If we had not been working there they might have never found it.”

Mary Stockwell, general manager of Munch Family Properties LLC and part owner of the 157 E. Franklin St. building, said the company will fix the damage.

“We certainly are taking care of it, that is a safety issue,” Stockwell said.

The building has been owned by Munch Family Properties since the 1930s when Stockwell’s grandfather bought it out of foreclosure, she said.

Stockwell said she has talked to architects and structural engineers who have proposed a variety of solutions.

She is considering an option to install four new columns as a support system to the broken beams. One of the columns would be placed in the northern part of the site, one in the center of the space and two on either side of the sky light bar.

“We have the money to cover it, but we haven’t pinned down what we’re going to do,” she said. “A ballpark figure is it will be more than $10,000.”

Stockwell said she doesn’t believe broken beams are a common problem, but the age of the building could have been a contributing factor.

She said bolts drilled into the middle of the beams for a sprinkling system and Krispy Kreme’s heavier floor could have put additional stress on the beams.

“Last year Krispy Kreme became our tenant and they put in heavy flooring,” she said. “I think we were good until then.”

The ceiling beams, however, aren’t the only problems Fountain found during demolition.

Among other issues, there are faulty plumbing lines, asbestos and leakage from venues at street level, Fountain said.

“It’s been a fortune and it’s been a personal struggle,” she said. “The whole thing has been hard.”

Fountain said it would cost about $250,000 to finish the project.

Bullock said they have talked about the possibility of relocating the restaurant but have not looked at any other locations.

“A new location would have to keep the flavor and the tradition,” he said.

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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