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Demolition of former school building in Charleston on hold without funding help

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CHARLESTON — It's been a year since part of the roof of a more than 100-year-old former school building collapsed in Charleston.

And while the city of Charleston soon secured the building to try to prevent anyone from entering, the time since has seen little progress except for a federal agency declining to provide assistance.

The estimated cost of demolishing the former Lincoln Elementary School building is too much for the city to handle on its own, city planner Steve Pamperin said.

"We are looking for other sources to help take care of these costs," he said.

In September, the city received word from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the agency's evaluation of the building concluded that "a time-critical removal action is not warranted at this time."

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There's no public access to the building allowed, the agency noted, and while asbestos is present it's not being released into the environment.

Pamperin said there appears to be no significant change in the building's condition since the partial roof collapse on April 14 of last year.

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City of Charleston workers were at the site two days later to add fencing and take other measures to keep the site secure and people out of the building.

"We continue to monitor the building," Pamperin said. "We'll do our best to keep the property safe."

The building was unoccupied for some time before the roof collapse and it's been in private ownership since 1998.

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Coles County court records show that the building's owners, Kenneth and Sandra Smallhorn, pleaded guilty in a 2014 property maintenance ordinance violation case the city filed against them.

The records also show that the case's status remains the same as it was at that time, with closing delayed "for determination of status of available funds for demolition."

Pamperin said he hasn't had any contact from Sandra Smallhorn about the building, and attempts to contact her for comment weren't successful. Kenneth Smallhorn died in 2015.

Pamperin said the city obtained an estimate on the cost of demolition in 2015 and it was nearly $627,000. There's been no recent update to the estimate, he said.

He noted that the EPA indicated that the city could contact the agency again if the building's condition changes and the funding request might be reconsidered.

While the city doesn't have the money to cover all the demolition costs, it's possible some city funds could be used, Pamperin also said. Many grant programs require some matching funds from the recipient and "we certainly would consider that," he said.

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The building is located at 4 Madison Ave. between Madison and Monroe Avenues where they intersect with Division Street.

A retaining wall runs along the property's south and west sides. There's a fence at the street-level section of the property along Madison Avenue, reinforced by the fencing the city added last year.

The building was built in 1917. Kenneth Smallhorn was the buyer when the school district sold it at auction in 1998.


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