If there are no glitches or unforeseen delays, we can expect to see Waynesburg’s tallest building being torn apart today by the wrecking ball.
Speculation whether the 108-year-old former county office building would be torn down or restored ended last Thursday when Waynesburg University, which purchased the building in March, announced plans to raze it.
It is expected to take three to four weeks to dismantle the six-story building on High Street, constructed in 1906 by Peoples National Bank. The university said the building is in a “severely run-down physical state” and the costs of required improvements prohibit renovations.
While the building has been vacant for more than 20 years, potential developers have looked at the building’s redevelopment potential, and ultimately walked away. Prior to the university purchasing the building, the former owner, John McNay, and a Beaver County contractor, 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, but the zoning board granted the required variances for parking and special exceptions in October.
We were hopeful this project would get off the ground and a restoration would finally take place. But five months later, the university purchased the property from McNay for $410,000.
Unfortunately, the issue of whether the building would stand or fall has evolved into more than just bricks and mortar. Anger is being directed at both the university and Waynesburg Borough Council. The university has become the target of criticism for buying up property and leaving gaping holes in High Street’s landscape. Council, on the other hand, was excoriated by Mary Beth Pastorius, who is president of Pastorius Historic Properties Inc., at last week’s county commissioners’ meeting for “abdicating basic responsibility to its taxpayers by not having a master municipal plan and not having a planning commission.
Pastorius, who owns several pieces of property in Waynesburg, also charged council has allowed the university to have undue influence for too long on too many issues. She also claimed council repeatedly deferred to university wishes that are not in the best interest of citizens and taxpayers.
While the university said it has no plans for the property once the building is razed, something could be decided during the process of revising the borough’s comprehensive plan. The borough recently received a state grant to revise the plan, which it will do in partnership with the county and the university.
While Pastorius was not specific in her reference to “undue influences,” we are aware the university has on several occasions made monetary donations to the borough for a police car as well as to the fire department to assist with the purchase of equipment. We doubt these contributions bought any political favors.
Perhaps more significant in the scope of this issue is the failure of preservationists and others who have become vocal opponents to the university’s decision to raze the building to step forward – and not at the 11th hour, when any effort to restore the building is all but gone, but years ago, as the building slowly deteriorated.
The reality is the building is coming down. Now, what happens after that should become the focus of the dialogue among all the parties concerned with preserving the future of downtown Waynesburg.