The Times West Virginian

Local News

June 21, 2014

Fairmont tackling its ‘BAD buildings’

City ‘just doesn’t need to be’ run down

FAIRMONT — Fairmont is moving forward in tackling its “BAD buildings.”

City representatives and community members have spent the past month taking a survey of the city of Fairmont, identifying buildings and properties that are “Brownfields, Abandoned & Dilapidated” (BAD) in the 21 areas of the city. The surveys are scheduled to be completed by June 30.

This survey is the first step in a process developed in a collaboration between representatives from the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center (WVBAC) and the Fairmont BAD Buildings Team. The WVBAC has awarded a $10,000 technical-assistance grant to Fairmont to help tackle the BAD buildings problem.

Molly Larner and Julie Kersey are sisters. They grew up in Fairmont and moved away when they were young adults. Now, they’ve moved back to the area. Larner has a house in Fairmont, and Kersey has a house she’s fixing up in Mannington.

“Our dad worked in Fairmont, and this was just such a cute little town,” Larner said. “It’s just really gotten run down. And it just doesn’t need to be.”

On Friday, the sisters brought Larner’s 3-year-old daughter Ruby along to do a survey of the West End.

Larner and Kersey got involved with the BAD Buildings Team because they hope to see Fairmont prosper and improve.

“When I grew up here and I turned 17, I squealed tires to get out of here. And I don’t want her (Ruby) to do the same thing,” Larner said. “That’s why I got involved. I want her to have a neighborhood she’s proud to live in and wants to stay in. And I feel like if the houses and surrounding areas are nice, then that attracts people to the neighborhood.”

Kersey said that improving the area could help stimulate the local economy and bring more opportunities to the area.

Kersey also became involved because of her love of seeing old things revitalized and useful again.

“When I was a girl, our mother would get me involved refurbishing furniture. And so that opens your eyes to old things and their value,” Kersey said.

Kersey’s house in Mannington was run down when she bought it.

“I got it at auction for $5,250; that’s how much it had diminished in price,” Kersey said. “And it’s charming. It has four fireplaces. But it’s a mess because it was just let go. So I guess we see the value in it.”

Because of the rain, Kersey and Larner drove the streets of their assigned area Thursday, taking notes. They said they will return later to take a more detailed account by foot.

The survey is several pages long, with information on the address, GPS coordinates, whether or not the building is occupied, and indicators of the condition of the building, such as boarded-up windows or structural issues.

Kersey said that part of what they are looking for is potential.

“The difference between a place having minor issues and major issues means maybe the property can be used for something else, or maybe the person just needs a little help,” Kersey said.

Kersey said she hopes to see more investment from companies in the surrounding community, including by industry.

“West Virginia has a horrible history of letting companies come in, use our resources, and the basic thing we get out of it is jobs. And that seems to be temporary,” Kersey said. “People need to re-invest and make companies a little more accountable.”

Kersey and Larner said that the biggest obstacle to tackling these BAD buildings is money.

“Money is tight. We all know that. We all have that in our daily lives,” Kersey said.

“One of the reasons I moved back is because I think the schools are better here than where we were,” Larner said. “But it seems like the businesses that have moved here … yes they’re bringing people here, but I don’t know how much they’re re-investing in infrastructure.”

“If you’re going to come in with a dirty industry, you really have to have an exit strategy in place,” Kersey said.

Kersey and Larner said that this is just the first step in the process of dealing with Fairmont’s BAD buildings.

“We’re going to reconvene, and we’re going to have people do computer work,” Larner said. “We’re going to have to figure out who owns these buildings. There are a lot of vacant ones out there, and a lot of absentee owners, so we have to figure out how to get in touch with them.”

Some sites will just need some time and care to get where they need to be. But not all buildings will be salvageable. Some buildings will need to be demolished.

“You have to pick your battles. You only have so much money, a town or a person even, and you can’t save everything,” Kersey said.

But Kersey and Larner said that while they want to see Fairmont improve, they hope it doesn’t lose is its old charm.

“Charlotte (North Carolina) basically bulldozed their entire old city, and built new, and really that city has no character anymore. It’s all gone,” Larner said. “The one thing I hope Fairmont does is keep its character.”

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.

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