WAYNESBURG – Just hours before Waynesburg University announced work will begin Monday to demolish downtown Waynesburg’s tallest building, Mary Beth Pastorius, president of Pastorius Historic Properties, Waynesburg, made an impassioned plea to the Greene County commissioners, saying, “You are our last defense to save it.”
The six-story, former county office building on High Street, constructed in 1906 by People’s National Bank, is expected to take three to four weeks to dismantle, said a release issued by Waynesburg University, which purchased the building in March.
The building is in a “severely run-down physical state” and the costs of required improvements prohibit renovations, the university said. The university cited numerous building deficiencies and said it estimates renovation costs would be at least three times the costs of building a new building.
The university has no plans for the property once the building is razed. That will be decided during the process of revising the borough’s comprehensive plan, it said.
The borough recently received a state grant to revise its comprehensive plan, which it will do in partnership with the county and the university.
Pastorius was critical of Waynesburg Borough for not informing its citizens about the application for demolition, nor providing a forum for public comment. “This building is a key economic and cultural asset and it is what makes Waynesburg unique,” she said.
She said the borough does not need another vacant lot. “There are already too many and what we do need us housing that this building could provide.”
Pastorius also criticized borough council for allowing the university to have undue influence for too long on too many issues. “Because the borough does not seem capable of fixing itself, you, the county, must step in and protect your county seat,” she said.
The building has been vacant for more than 20 years. Potential developers have looked at the building’s redevelopment potential, but have ultimately walked away, the university said.
Prior to the university purchasing the building, the former owner, John McNay, and a Beaver County contractor had developed a plan to renovate the building into 28 apartments.
The plan was opposed by the university at hearings before the Waynesburg Borough Zoning Hearing Board. The zoning board granted the required variance and special exception in October. Five months later, however, the university purchased the property from McNay for $410,000.
Inspections of the building, the university said, revealed renovations would require removal of all features and systems down to the existing structural. It cited the following deficiencies:
• The building’s electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems are unsalvageable and cannot be reused in a renovation.
•The building’s narrow width, about 30 feet, limits the amount of usable space after new code compliant stairs, elevators and corridors are constructed.
• The building does not meet today’s code requirements, which call for two enclosed exit stairs. The building now has only one open interior stairway and an exterior fire escape connecting the six floors. A new interior stairway would have to be constructed.
• The existing elevators are no longer in working condition and do not meet International Building Code requirements. The 2009 IBC requires buildings of four or more stories provide at least one elevator for fire department emergency access to all floors and the elevator car must be of sufficient size to accommodate a standard ambulance stretcher. The existing elevator shaft is not large enough for a car of that size.
• Structural work would be significant for the creation of new openings through the reinforced concrete floors for the new stairway and elevator.
• The roof shows signs of deterioration from water infiltration and is not designed to support the weight of modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The roof would have to be replaced in some areas and reinforced to support the equipment.
• Other code-required items such as a fire alarm system and fire protection systems, including sprinklers, would be required in a renovation project.
The university also noted parking is already a problem in the borough. Development of the building into a residential or business complex could compound an already difficult parking situation, it said.
The building will be disassembled with heavy machinery. All the required permits have been applied for and the demolition permit has been approved, it said.
During the demolition work, High Street will remain open with traffic restrictions after 8 p.m. for the first several days. The sidewalk in front of the building will be closed for the duration of the demolition.
The parking lot of the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Greene County and the county’s parking lot behind Hooper Park will be closed during the process.
The University’s Willison Hall parking lot on Franklin Street will be open for First Federal employees and customers and county employees. The county’s parking lot north of Strawberry Avenue should be unaffected through the process.
Pastorius asked the commissioners to send a letter to the university president and every member of the board of trustees expressing your “united unhappiness with the demolition.”
Moreover, she asked the board to “investigate possible conflicts of interest of any member of borough council who is an employee of the university.”
Commission Chairman Chuck Morris said the county is “not a player in this situation,” and said he doubts the county has any standing. But, Morris said, “We will look at all these things.”
She said demolition is not a solution to vacant or blighted buildings because it destroys the tax base and discourages economic revitalization. “Downtown Waynesburg has already lost too many buildings. It is time to draw a line in the sand and tell the university ‘no.’”