Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 18, 2013

Warmer weather sees demolition programs kick into high gear

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — As the weather warms, municipalities and counties across the region are moving forward with blight demolition programs, scheduling dozens of buildings to be razed by the end of the year.

Bill Buzzo, code enforcement director for the city of Princeton, said more than 450 structures have been demolished so far through the city’s program.

“To date we have completed demolition on 468 structures,” he said. “Of those, 99 were removed by the city funds, 294 by private owners, and 75 through grants. A lot of cities and counties think grants are the answer to funding demolition programs, but only 16 percent of ours are funded from grants. The majority are funded by private property owners, which is where the responsibility should lie.”

Buzzo said there are typically 20 structures awaiting demolition at any given time.

“We have 22 buildings currently on the list, though we usually have about that many on the list at all times,” he said. “We might tear one or two structures down and then two or three more will be condemned that same week. It’s a never-ending process.”

Buzzo said demolition can be a costly process.

“The average cost of demolition per building is right at $4,000,” he said. “The most expensive single-structure demolition we have done was almost $59,862 for one building, but that was a two story house with asbestos. We have done $1.9 million worth of demolition work in 20 years, which is almost $100,000 a year spent on demolition, though not all of that money comes from city funds.”

Not all condemned structures end up as vacant lots, Buzzo said.

“We have 33 lots where a house was built back after one had been demolished,” he said. “The project has also seen a lot of structures renovated. A lot of absentee owners move out of state and sometimes you will hear they are planning on coming back and retiring. Some have no idea the house they own has decayed so badly.”

Bluefield City Manager Jim Ferguson said more than a dozen structures have been demolished by the city’s public works department this year alone.

“To date, we have demolished 15 condemned properties for the month,” he said. “We weren’t able to do any during January or during Clean Sweep. Our goal is to do 50 properties this year, which is achievable though it is an aggressive schedule considering all the different things the public works department is involved in this year.”

Ferguson said the goal is to take down the bulk of the structures in Bluefield awaiting demolition by the end of 2014.

“We have approximately 120 structures on the list,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is by the end of 2014 that we have almost all of blighted properties on this list removed. We want to get it down to where there is a handful left. We have already torn down more than 400 structures through this program.”

However, the project has a steep price tag.

“The cheapest a demolition costs for us is typically $3,500 per structure,” Ferguson said. “Costs increase if there is asbestos or other conditions such as brush that needs to be removed to access the property. A lot of things impact the cost of a demolition.”

As a result, Ferguson said the city is exploring new ways to help fund the demolition program.

“We are also looking to start an ‘adopt-a-demo’ program,” he said. “Citizens, business owners or anyone who has a desire to help remove these blighted properties can pick or sponsor a demolition. You have to meet a certain criteria and fund the cost to demolish the property. The city public works will do the work and the cost would be reimbursed by the business or group.”

McDowell County Commission President Gordon Lambert said warm weather means county crews are up working full force investigating condemned properties.

“We had pulled off of it doing some asbestos removal but we are back into it now,” Lambert said. “We are hoping to do two structures a week year-round. All of the projects take at least three people and we have others who help out doing inspections and making sure asbestos gets removed ahead of time.”

For now, Lambert said the county is focusing on dilapidated structures in the Gary area.

“We have almost 100 to do in the Gary area alone,” he said. “We are trying to focus on one area at a time as much as possible. Sometimes there are ones that have to be taken down really quickly, but we are trying to go into different areas so we don’t have to spend as much time moving equipment back and forth from one area to another.”

Lambert said the hope is the demolition program will encourage tourism and economic redevelopment in McDowell County.

“We are looking at tourism and ATV people come in riding, they don’t want to see dilapidated buildings,” he said. “People who come in here hunting don’t want to see that. It will help us as far as the economic development. A lot of these homes in the Gary area that have been torn down have the water and sewer hook-ups left so someone could build back on the same property, which is a plus.”

— Contact Kate Coil at