Apr. 9—A corroding building in downtown Mitchell that's been deemed "uninhabitable" will be coming down soon.
But before crews begin tearing down the 124 E. First Ave. building, city officials had to coordinate a plan to safely remove the asbestos inside. Following the Mitchell City Council's approval to put an asbestos removal plan in place during the recent meeting, it clears the way for crews to demolish the nuisance structure, which city officials say will begin likely in May. The teardown will clean up one of the more heavily-trafficked intersections in downtown Mitchell.
While inspections are typically conducted inside buildings prior to being demolished, City Engineer Joe Schroeder said officials with the South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources deemed an inspection on the structure was "not safe," due to the condition of the building that sits on the corner of East First Avenue and Lawler Street.
"It was not safe for the inspection on the building to be done inside the building, so they will be required to be there when the building is being torn down," Schroeder said of the asbestos removal crews. "Geotek will be on site to do testing as the building is being taken down. It should take a week for it to be taken down."
To remove the asbestos — which is a carcinogen known to cause mesothelioma — the city is tabbing Horsley Specialties Inc. to take on the job at a cost of $15,060.
The first phase of the asbestos removal will entail removing all of the white siding that contains asbestos material. Once the siding and asbestos materials are removed from the building, crews will contain the site with a barrier and dispose of it at a site that accepts asbestos material. The building will also be watered down to "keep any dust particles to a minimum," Schroeder said.
For the second phase, asbestos removal would take place on site during the demolition, as crews will remove "items that have questionable asbestos materials." Following the removal of the asbestos, it would be moved to a "safe location" with an excavator.
According to City Attorney Justin Johnson, the demolition is expected to cost $25,000.
In response to council member John Doescher's question, asking who will be paying for the demolition, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the current property owners, Santos Mejia Cerritos and Maria Emelina De Mejia, are responsible for footing the demolition bill.
"He has to pay us for doing it as part of an assessment, which will be paid over time until it is fully paid off. We also get about 8% of interest added to it," Everson said.
When the building is knocked down, it will be the latest in a series of city-involved demolitions downtown. In the past two years, the city has knocked down three corroding buildings that were deemed nuisance properties along Main Street.
History of neglect
The building has been plagued by years of neglect, causing damage to the exterior and interior. Johnson said the building's nuisance conditions have led to safety concerns for the neighboring property owners.
The city has issued property owners of the building several "orders to correct" dating back to 2012. The most recent order to correct that was issued for the nuisance conditions that included fixing the foundation, roof and siding, along with repairing the windows to prevent birds from entering the building. In addition, the order to correct identified failure to maintain exterior, rodent issues, vermin, insects, other pests and overgrown vegetation.
While the current property owners have owned the building since 2019, it changed hands over the years. In the past, tenants once occupied the top floor of the building. But after the property was neglected over the years and began withering away, it was deemed uninhabitable.
"The damage inside the building is pretty extensive, and the detection is significant," Johnson said during the Sept. 21, 2020 council meeting. "The ceiling is sunk in about 2.5 feet, and the basement is inaccessible at this point due to the stairs collapsing."
In 2018, an order was issued to then property owners Jose and Maria Guzman, who "failed to comply with the order," ultimately leading to citations for violating city code. Shortly after the citations were issued, the Guzmans failed to appear in court and authorities were unable to arrest them for their bench warrants. The Guzmans sold the property in 2019 to the current owners, Cerritos and Emelina De Mejia.
Johnson said Cerritos was initially interested in correcting the nuisance conditions and repairing the structure. However, he later informed the city that the repairs were too costly. The current property owners are on board with the building being torn down and paying for it through an assessment.
During a September 2020 council meeting when the council approved abating the property, Johnson noted the demolition could be "tricky" considering its location in the downtown historic district.