Warren building clean-up to cost over $300,000

The clean-up following the partial collapse of a downtown building has so far cost the town of Warren more than $233,000, with an estimated $100,000 in bills yet to come, a town official says.

More than three months after the incident, three downtown buildings have been razed, the bare ground at two of the properties has been covered in stone to prevent runoff and the third property - owned by the town - is awaiting a covering of sod.

The construction fence around the site has come down, and the town is beginning to look for ways to recover the money it spent cleaning up the mess.

Warren Clerk-Treasurer Marilyn Morrison reported on the cleanup costs during a special meeting of the Warren Town Council on Oct. 22.

The dominoes began to fall, as it were, just after the Salamonie Summer Festival parade had passed through town the evening of July 5. The roof of a former grocery store at 122 N. Wayne St., vacant for at least five years, caved in and sent the brick facade crashing to the sidewalk.

A subsequent inspection of the remaining buildings on the block, which were all structurally tied to the vacant grocery store building, resulted in the recommendation that the buildings on ether side of that structure be demolished.

During the Oct. 22 meeting, town council members approved payment on bills totaling $233,470.50 for demolition and cleanup. Those bills are for work completed through the end of September, she says. She expects to receive bills for an additional $100,000 to cover final work on the cleanup.

In order to get the buildings down and cleaned up quickly, the town council elected to pay the bills up front and then attempt to recover the money from property owners. The money to do that was borrowed from the town's electric fund and will be paid back at 2 percent interest, with owners of two of the buildings to be assessed for their share of the cleanup costs.

The town owns the third building - a vacant building that most recently housed a beauty shop - and will bear the costs for razing that building. Taxes on the building had gone unpaid, and the town acquired it early this year after it drew no bidders in a tax sale.
The town had previously spent $24,000 to put a new roof on the building, an action designed to stabilize that building in order to protect the buildings on either side.

The other two properties are still privately owned, although the town has begun legal procedures to take over ownership of the former Rackety-Packety Shop at the end of the block.

That building had not been open for business since a fire 12 years ago. It also had unpaid taxes and failed to attract any bidders at a tax sale. Morrison says the town plans to sell the property, getting it back into private hands.

According to Huntington County GIS records, the former grocery store building at 122 N. Wayne St. is owned by Mark A. and Jan A. Weight, of Warren. The owner of record of the former Rackety-Packety Shop property, at 118 N. Wayne St., according to Huntington County GIS, is Catherine A. Schlup, of Fort Wayne.

A Warren woman, Mary E. Benson, has filed legal notice that she plans to pursue a lawsuit against the town and several other entities over injuries she says she received as the area was being evacuated after the July 5 building collapse.

Benson, in a notice filed Oct. 14 by the Ken Nunn Law Office in Bloomington, says she plans to take legal action against the town of Warren, Warren Police Department, Warren Town Council, Huntington County Sheriff, Huntington County Commissioners, Huntington County and the state of Indiana, claiming negligence on their part contributed to her injury.

Also during the Oct. 22 meeting:

• Council members approved a raise of 60 cents an hour, or $1,248 for the year, for town employees. The figure represents 3 percent of the employees' median wage.

Council members will receive a $100 a year raise, bringing their annual salary to $2,479.52. The council president receives an additional $200 a year.