The Times West Virginian

August 17, 2008

Goal: Redevelop site of former black Elks

Fairmont hopes to recoup $72,000 demolition cost

By Mallory Panuska

FAIRMONT — City officials are hoping to solicit a buyer to redevelop the former site of the former black Elks building at the corner of Everest Drive and Cleveland Avenue.

Following the structure’s emergency demolition last weekend, city manager Jim Snider said the city is hoping someone will come forward to develop the site and recoup the city’s $72,000 demolition cost.

“We have had some interest in it,” Snider said. “We will probably send out a request for proposal for someone to develop the site and see what kind of response we get on that.”

In mid-July, a section of the parapet wall atop the waning building, which at the time was owned by the Fairmont Renaissance Corp. (FRC), came crashing down into the street, creating a public safety issue in the area. The city was then forced to take over ownership of the building so the situation could be addressed.

Despite requests to save the early 20th-century, cut-sandstone-and-brick facade for historic purposes, officials were ultimately forced to tear the structure down.

On July 25, city planner Jay Rogers said the FRC officially signed the deed of the building over to the city. Snider said this transaction was completed without any payment from either party, and the FRC did not provide any compensation toward the demolition.

Rogers said this is because the organization did not have the funds to do it. Snider said the FRC no longer has any ties to the property.

The Vandalia Heritage Foundation (VHF) and the FRC were initially working together to accomplish preservation projects in the downtown historic district where the building is located. In 2002, the building was donated to the FRC, but a lack of funding to restore the structure stood in the way of preservation efforts.

The FRC is an existing community and economic group that Vandalia helped the city to establish. Members include president Gerry Schmidt, Bruce McDaniel, Diane Floyd, Fran Whiteman, Nick Fantasia, Rich Wood and Sharon Shaffer. The VHF is a regional nonprofit devoted to community and economic development and historical preservation.

The demolition was completed last weekend by Morgantown-based Laurita Excavating within several days of signing a $72,000 demolition contract. And because the demolition project was an emergency situation and the city’s typical competitive bid process could not be conducted, some confusion arose with the bid process that occurred. This was addressed last week during the most recent city council meeting.

Snider explained after the situation was brought up that Laurita originally bid $68,000 to raze the building, a price that did not include the necessary asbestos abatement. This bid was the lowest of the five total companies that bid on the job, and the amount was publicly announced July 22.

The bid was not awarded until after the opinion of an independent engineer hired to assess the situation at the site was received, however, and within that time, two other companies rebid on the project. But since Laurita’s bid had already been disclosed, the city opted to grant the company the job for not more than $72,000.

Snider said the sections of Cleveland Avenue and Everest Drive that were closed to all traffic for safety purposes after the bricks collapsed into the street have been reopened.

E-mail Mallory Panuska at mpanuska@timeswv.com.