New Carlisle debates how to pay for demolishing city-owned eyesore

New Carlisle leaders aren’t fighting to keep the old Madison Street school standing, but they aren’t in agreement yet about how to pay for tearing it down.

City Manager Randy Bridge suggested using federal Community Development Block Grant money for demolition of the city-owned property that has deteriorated significantly and long burdened New Carlisle.

The city paid $110,000 for it in 1998 with plans to renovate and use part of it for its offices. But that proved too costly — estimates approached $5 million — and the building has hung around the city’s neck ever since.

Bridge asked council members to put off some street repairs in 2017 and 2018 and use that money to raze the school.

But council members chose to stay with its plans to use that money on street projects, as it has traditionally done.

“We actually had an opportunity to tear down that school that’s been a hinder to the city for a long time,” Bridge said. “To me that street’s not hindering economic development, and that’s where my head was with getting that school torn down. Because once we get that school torn down, we can put seven or eight houses there.

Councilman Rick Lowrey said he wants to hear from residents through social media about how to pay for the demolition.

“I did not want to say, ‘OK, let’s not fix roads to tear down the building,’” he said. “I’m all for having the building torn down. Twelve years ago I wish it would’ve been torn down.”

The city has applied to Clark County, which distributes the Community Development Block Grant money, and requested $100,000 for work on Prentice Drive.

“I look at it from an economic development standpoint, they look at it from a road repair standpoint,” Bridge said. “It happens all the time — city manager and council do not agree on something. But we went through the process we did, and that’s what they chose to do with their city.”

A large For Sale sign offering six acres stands in front of the Madison Street school. The sale price, however, is free and has been since 2014 with the stipulation of tearing it down. With no takers, it seems inevitable that the city will tear down the 95-year-old building.

New Carlisle was put on fiscal watch 13 years ago by the state auditor for almost five years as a result of a $500,000 accounting error. That made it more obvious than ever that the city couldn’t afford to do anything with the school, and the auditor’s financial plan wouldn’t allow it.

David McWhorter is the vice president of the New Carlisle Historical Society and attended New Carlisle Elementary in the building in the 1970s. As much as he wants the school saved, he understands why demolition is being discussed.

“Rightfully so they’re in the practical aspect of looking at things that it needs to come down,” he said. “I don’t want to say it, but in the back of my mind that’s the reality. It kills me.”

Tom Hale, the community development director for Clark County, said CDBG money is the most reasonable way for New Carlisle to tear down the school. He said the school meets enough criteria, including blight, health and safety concerns, to qualify for CDBG money.

But the size of the grants have dwindled the past five years. Hale said the county has only $293,000 to award to various entities this year.

“We offered to allow them to apply for CDBG and they declined that one,” Hale said. “We don’t have another mechanism right now to work with.”

If the city decides in the future to apply CDBG money toward demolition, it must contribute at least 10 percent of its own money to the project. Three demolition estimates from 2008 to 2010 ranged from $143,500 to $195,000. Bridge has requested a new estimate from Charles Jergens Construction in Dayton.

“I have toured inside the school, and it certainly is a candidate for demolition,” Hale said.

Demolition might include more costly asbestos removal. Bridge said in a May 2 council meeting that he found a memo from former City Manager Kim Jones that says asbestos was removed from the boiler room in 1985. However, there might be additional asbestos in the cafeteria, according to the memo.

Other than CDBG funds or the city using its own money, Hale said the only other way the county could help would be through the County Land Bank, which he also manages.

But that’s a long shot because the only grants available to the Land Bank lately are for residential demolition. The school falls under commercial status. If commercial money becomes available, New Carlisle could give the school to the County Land Bank for it to demolish.

McWhorter said he realizes it would take several businesses or investors to save the school now. It’s in far worse shape than when it was bought because of vandalism, arson, a leaky roof and neglect.

“I would say the high majority of the people want to keep that building,” McWhorter said. “They went there or they know of the building, they saw movies there. If they had the opportunity to keep it, they would. There’s something special about that building growing up that I hate to see it lost.”

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