Malone village hires company to oversee demolition of building ready to collapse

MALONE — Members of the village board agreed last week to hire an engineering firm to oversee the demolition of the dilapidated building at 395 W. Main St.

The action came after Mayor Todd M. LePine declared a state of emergency, which allows the village to waive the competitive bidding process normally required for projects of this magnitude.

“We have to protect the public,” Trustee Hugh Hill said following the decision. “We have acted responsibly and there is an immediate danger.”

The board agreed to hire Barton & Loguidice, a Liverpool-based engineering firm that has done work for Malone before, including upgrades at the village sewer plant, preliminary work on the village’s proposed solar farm and construction of a third municipal well in Chasm Falls. The company will obtain all needed permits, design a plan to deal with traffic during the demolition and create schematics of the building to bring it down in the safest possible way, Mr. Hill said.

Friend Commercial Contracting of Malone will do the actual demolition work.

Preliminary estimates had placed the cost of taking down the building, which engineers have said is in imminent danger of collapsing, as high as $1 million. However, village officials said they hope to be able to bring the project in at about $250,000, thanks to the use of village crews and shared services with the town of Malone and Franklin County.

The county will provide technical expertise, while village and town crews will haul away the debris as the building comes down, Mr. Hill said.

Village officials have reached out to state and federal officials for help with the costs, but Mr. Hill said he fears much of the money will come from village taxpayers. Initially, the costs will be covered out of the village’s reserves and fund balance, but because of the complexity of the project, there is no guarantee those funds will be sufficient, Mr. Hill said.

“Even with help, it will be a huge struggle on property taxpayers from Malone,” he said. The village board has been committed to keeping taxes down for the past nine years, but this project is necessary — and expensive, he said.

The village is stuck with bearing this expense since the owner of the property is “untraceable,” Mr. Hill said.

A law firm specializing in litigation had been hired to review the village’s liability regarding the building, he said.

“They have specifically advised us under these particular circumstances because of the obvious danger to the public safety and well-being that the Village ‘could’ be held liable for the failure to eliminate the dangerous situation,” Mr. Hill said in an email. “If the Village failed to act in a controlled, responsible way, the consequences of a disaster from the collapse of the building could then result in litigation that could very well result in a much broader exposure to the Village.”

However, if the building were to collapse and kill someone, money concerns would be secondary, he said.

“This is so complex, so many dimensions — legally, technically and financially — that it is really a major story,” he said.

The use of shared services will hopefully “contain costs and not bankrupt the village,” Mr. Hill said. He added that village officials are “so thankful that others are coming to our aid” and said the village will reciprocate when other communities find themselves facing similar problems — as they inevitably will. “The only way we can handle it as communities is to help each other,” he said.

Village Trustee Andrea Dumas acknowledged that the demolition will cause major disruption to the traffic on Main Street, which is also U.S. Route 11 and state Route 30.

“Once we get everything in place, it is critical that we have the cooperation from the village and state,” Ms. Dumas said. “A crane will sit on the bridge. Employees, pedestrians, village, town and county will have to be on the same page.”

The demolition could take anywhere from three to five weeks, although village officials said the complexity of the project and a lack of information about the structure could make that an optimistic estimate.

“There is no blueprint; no one knows what is in there,” Mr. Hill said. Engineers who inspected building earlier this year recommended no one be allowed to go in because of safety concerns.

“We need people to be patient,” Ms. Dumas said. “It is not one person’s fault.”

Residents got a taste of what is to come last week when a crane was situated on Main Street to place concrete barriers in the Salmon River to protect a sewer main that runs along the river adjacent to the building. Parts of Main Street were down to two lanes.

The project is further complicated by the location of the building and the topography surrounding it. The building sits right on the riverbank and is actually built into the cliffs that line the river. The river is to the east and the building abuts another structure on the west. Only a narrow sidewalk separates the front of the building from the road, and access from the rear is impossible because of topography and heavy undergrowth.

“It is really a unique building with no road access — only a narrow access in the front,” Mr. Hill said. Also, although the frontage of the building may look small, there are nine stories involved, many below street level, he said.

Both Ms. Dumas and Mr. Hill expressed concern about the effects of the demolition on downtown businesses. Village Furniture and Design, owned by Debbie Cox, is at 391 W. Main St., next door to the dilapidated structure. Mr. Hill said Ms. Cox “has put her heart and soul in her business and has kept her business up. The Village Board is mortified at the disruption.”

Ms. Cox intends to stay open during the construction. Mr. Hill said the board will be trying to help her business. Ms. Dumas also commented on how beautiful the windows always look at Ms. Cox’s building and said, “We need to pull together to support her.”

“Our hearts go out to her, and we need more like her,” Mr. Hill said.

“This is a huge project and it will affect life in the village for many years to come,” he said. “It will be in your face for anyone traveling Route 11 for more than a month.”

 

By Despo Baltoumaus, Johnson Newspapers