Coronavirus delays efforts to demolish two Middletown eyesores

The former Middletown Paperboard site is one of two major eyesores that the city is working to demolish. City officials are working to install a perimeter fence to keep people out of the site. The former manufacturing facility was destroyed by fire on Jan. 1. FILE PHOTO Demolition began Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 after fire destroyed parts of the vacant former Middletown Paperboard building on New Year’s Day. Jarod Thrush / STAFF
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The former Middletown Paperboard site is one of two major eyesores that the city is working to demolish. City officials are working to install a perimeter fence to keep people out of the site. The former manufacturing facility was destroyed by fire on Jan. 1. FILE PHOTO Demolition began Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 after fire destroyed parts of the vacant former Middletown Paperboard building on New Year’s Day. Jarod Thrush / STAFF

Two of Middletown’s biggest eyesores are being targeted for demolition as soon as the city gets its finances arranged for the projects and plans are reviewd.

Acting City Manager Susan Cohen said Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic has affected ongoing demolition projects as local and state government reviews are delayed by many officials are working from home.

“COVID-19 has definitely slowed the process down,” she said. “Part of it were due to city delays and others were due to state delays.”

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The two properties, the former Middletown Paperboard, 300 S. Verity Parkway, and the former Lincoln School, 2402 Central Ave., are both owned by the city. Both buildings were acquired by the Butler County Land Bank through tax forfeitures and transferred to the city.

She also said it’s also “a money issue but we’re going to move forward with business as much as possible.”

As the city looks for state and federal grants to demolish the former manufacturing facility, she is concerned about state budget cuts to various grant programs as a result of the pandemic.

Cohen said the Lincoln School demolition project is going through the review process by the State Historic Preservation Office to determine the building’s historic significance and if it eligible for the National Historic Registry. This review process has been ongoing for about a year and is in the last phase of the state review.

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“As soon as that’s done, we’re going to work on getting that down as soon as possible and it could happen this year,” she said.

She said the rough estimate to demolish the former school is between $200,000 and $300,000. Cohen said the city will be using federal Community Development Block Grant funding to cover the demolition costs of the former school.

The land bank transferred the property to the city on July 26, 2018, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office.

There are two buildings on the 5.53-acre school parcel that were both built in 1927, according to the auditor’s office. The primary building contains 38,716 square feet, and the secondary building contains about 3,984 square feet, according to the auditor’s office.

The school closed in 1980 when students were moved up Central Avenue to Roosevelt Elementary School, which closed in 2008 and was later demolished. It housed a dental practice and several small businesses until 2011. The building has been vacant since then and has been vandalized, including an arson fire in December 2015 and again April 16.

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An arson fire destroyed much of the Middletown Paperboard facility, burning much of the building to the ground on Jan. 1, 2020. There was a previous arson fire at the site in February 2018. The county land bank transferred the property to the city on Jan. 13, 2020.

Last week, two companies submitted bids for under $34,000 to fence the 11-acre site the covers 61 parcels. The Paperboard buildings contained between 400,000 and 600,000 square feet of space.

The city spent more than $130,000 in January to a demolition company to help firefighters put out burning hot spots by moving debris and knocking down walls.

Cohen said the informal estimate to demolish the site was between $1.5 million and $2 million. That did not include the costs to remediate the site and that would depend on what was found there. She said the city would have to seek grants from the state to cover remediation costs but there has been no word on state monies for demolition.