Friday January 23, 2009, 4:30 PM
By KEN ROSS
HOLYOKE – A building deemed hazardous by city officials will be torn down as early as June using $400,000 of city funds.
“We have this (project) on a fast track,” David A. Martins, chief procurement officer for the city, said Wednesday.
City officials wish they did not have to use city funds to tear down a privately owned, Maple Street building, but they insist the city needs to do something soon for public safety reasons.
“I’d love to let it sit there and rot,” City Councilor Todd A. McGee said Tuesday, adding, “This building is a hazard and the potential for harm is high.”
On Tuesday, the council voted 11-3 to appropriate $400,000 in free cash to demolish the building at 506 Maple St. Councilors John B. Brunelle, Rebecca Lisi and Donald R. Welch cast the three dissenting votes.
Free cash is a term used by the state for unused appropriations from a previous fiscal year. The previous fiscal year ended on June 30.
Councilors were advised by the city’s building inspector and Fire Department that the Maple Street building should be torn down. They were warned the building was in danger of collapse.
“You have a building held up by straps,” McGee said. And in one corner, the building is “actually pitching out” and on the verge of falling over, according to Councilor John J. O’Neill.
Upon hearing about Tuesday’s vote, Martins contacted Forbes & Wheeler of Holyoke that same night to discuss doing an asbestos survey of the building. A contract with the company has not been finalized, Martins said.
The asbestos survey will likely take two to four weeks. Bids will then be solicited to remove asbestos. The actual asbestos removal will then take three to six months. During that time, demolition bids will solicited. Based on this timeline, Martins said he hopes demolition work will begin in June and take 90 to 120 days to complete.
Some city officials strongly object to using city funds to demolish a privately owned building. “There’s no way I’m going to invest $400,000 to tear down a private building,” Lisi said. “We need to reclaim the land for the city and get it back on the tax rolls.”
The city has been trying to do just that, McGee said. But McGee and other councilors noted that the city’s attempts have been thwarted by the property owner, a New York-based company listed as S3W Realty, LLP, according to city records. State records list the business as having a Springfield address but no phone number or person associated with the business.
The city took the company to Housing Court in Springfield, which Mayor Michael J. Sullivan said ruled that property owner was responsible for making repairs to the building. But officials have been unable to reach the property owner, Sullivan said.
Some city councilors Tuesday questioned why police don’t arrest the building’s owner. But since the company’s owner has not committed a criminal offense, that person can only be arrested in this state, Sullivan said. Finding the owners of such vacant buildings is also extremely difficult, Sullivan added.
And because the building is privately owned, the city cannot use federal Community Development Block Grant money to tear it down as suggested by some councilors, Councilor John P. Brunelle said.
Either way, many councilors agreed the city needs to develop a city-wide plan for dealing with vacant and decrepit buildings on the verge of collapsing. “We have to try and find a way to keep landlords responsible,” City Councilor Anthony M. Keane said.
More than 200 vacant and decrepit buildings in the city need to be demolished for safety and economic reasons, Sullivan said.