Staffing shortages and environmental issues have helped delay a pair of demolition projects in Neosho, though visible progress should be just around the corner, say city officials.
At Tuesday's city council meeting, Neosho director of development services Craig Jones reported that the demolition of the former First Baptist Church building at 208 S. Jefferson Street and the former Carnation Milk (more recently Frye and Gray Home Furnishing and most recently My Sister & Me antique and collectibles shop) property at 210 E. Spring Street will both go to bid soon. The Spring Street work also includes demolition of smaller blighted properties the city owns along that same strip.
Jones later told the Daily that the last word he received from the project engineer, Allgeier, Martin & Associates, was that bidding might be opened for both projects by early December. Bids will have to be advertised a bit longer — three weeks total — for demolition of the Spring Street property because of the funding source, Jones said.
However, “we are on the cusp of going to bid,” Jones said.
The city purchased the Spring Street property in September 2009, using a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Missouri Department of Economic Development earmarked for the acquisition and demolition of blighted areas, which also pays for engineering services.
But that demolition project in particular has proven a bit complicated, especially after the discovery of endangered Ozark cave fish in the spring-fed pool beneath the building during an environmental assessment. The city is now working closely with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the project because of the fish.
It has affected demolition plans in that the building can’t simply be bulldozed down but will have to be dismantled and carefully disposed of so as not to disturb the endangered species living there.
“The cavefish certainly was a hiccup we didn’t expect at all,” Jones told the council Tuesday. “The endangered species issue is a mess. It’s definitely been a complication. But we hope it can possibly be an asset to the site.”
The same environmental assessment on that property also found asbestos in the floor tiles and in the adhesive used to put up cork insulation from when the building was used for cold storage, and its removal had to be bid out and handled separately.
Asbestos was also a bit of a problem at the former First Baptist Church building, after hired contractors found more than 600 pipe joints wrapped in the stuff, as well as several tons of floor tile, which was more than what had been expected, according to Jones.
That demolition project is being paid for with Missouri Development Finance Board dollars, which were traded for tax credits to Missourians who donated toward the project.
Page 2 of 2 - The church building was purchased by the city in February 2008 for $290,000 with the intention of either renovating it as an extension of the Civic or leveling it for parking or even a green area. But the estimated $1.1 million, by a past city administration’s numbers, it would cost to renovate the structure was too steep for city council members, who voted to tear the church building down. That was in June 2009. At that time, it was discussed planting fescue grass in the large plat and leaving it as a green area until such time as the city could afford to build a parking lot, if still deemed needed. That’s still the plan, according to Jones, though the city did explore the option of utilizing the concrete slab floors as ready-made parking lots. That, however, “isn’t workable,” Jones said. The building will now be razed to street grade level.
However, the main reasons Jones gave for the delay of both the Spring Street and Jefferson Street demolition projects were severe staff cuts and a shifting of priorities.
Jones related to the council that when former interim city manager Harlan Moore implemented the mass layoffs in the summer of 2010, after the city found itself in a deep financial hole dug by the prior city administration, he told what remained of the departmental directors that “you folks aren’t going to get stuff done at the same pace you used to get stuff done and you’ll just have to accept that.”
Even before that, however, when former city manager Jan Blase and finance director Bob Blackwood were fired for malfeasance, Jones said the staff had already decided to prioritize.
“We as city staff made a decision to shift our priorities and concentrate on what really needed to be done for the city,” Jones told the Daily. “Special projects for downtown revitalization were shelved. Slowly but surely we’re getting a handle on those things, though, and people will start to see things move along.”
Mayor Richard Davidson noted Tuesday that the city is “not dragging its feet on these projects.”
“They have been delayed a little bit, but to the folks who are concerned about getting this done, the city is still committed to doing it,” Davidson said. “We’ve had to put them on the back burner a little bit because of resources and time, and cavefish and asbestos and things like that that were beyond our control, but we’re still moving forward and plan to do what we said we would do — albeit it has taken a little longer because of some issues that popped up 18 months ago.”
Read more about Tuesday’s city council meeting in Friday’s paper.