Westfield councilors begin nuisance process on school

Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:00 am

By Julie Ann Madden

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The Westfield Community School building continues to deteriorate -- some of it caused by vandals. Doors ajar, broken windows and trees growing through the collapsed roof leave the former Westfield Community School building not only an eye sore but a safety hazard, according to Westfield councilors.

Watching the Westfield Community School building deteriorate is not something city officials nor residents like.

Now the school building with its broken windows and holes in the doors has become a safety hazard.

But city officials have been hampered by several things from resolving the nuisance in a timely manner.

Topping the list is the fact the building is privately owned, and a series of letters sent to the property owner requesting he take action to end the nuisance issues have not brought any resolution.

Secondly, Westfield councilors feel they must tread softly with this issue. If they condemn the property, then the city accepts the burden of the property.

City coffers do not have the kind of money that will be needed to demolish the building, especially since the building might contain asbestos, said Westfield Mayor Bill Hummel.

“If there is asbestos, the costs are astronomical for removal,” said Hummel, noting city officials have researched “brown-field grants” but these grants are for renovation of a brown-field area and often require a 50-50 funding match.

Furthermore, with the building’s roof in such poor shape, it’s doubtful renovation is possible, said Hummel.

Finally, the last letter the city attorney sent to the property owner was sent in December 2011. Since then, city officials’ appeals to their city attorney for further action went unanswered.

Now too much time has lapsed, meaning the nuisance abatement process must be started again.

At the Westfield councilors’ July 9 meeting, Councilor Tami Hummel read portions of an email from Attorney Patrick Murphy, where he “apologized for not overseeing the management of the city’s file,” as his firm is the city’s attorneys.

He said he would take over as the city’s attorney role, said Tami, adding he requested a copy of the city’s ordinances. Murphy will send another letter to begin the nuisance abatement process again.

If the property owner, Mike Burke, doesn’t respond, then the council will declare the property a nuisance and hire someone to secure the school’s premises by boarding up the windows, doors and other areas that need secured.

The costs city officials expend for safeguarding the premises will be assessed as a lien on the property by action of the council.

After it is secured, Murphy will assist city officials in seeking grant funds for building demolition.

“With a very minimal budget it will be difficult for Westfield to expend any substantial sums in regards to cleanup up of the site,” said Tami, reading Murphy’s email. “Regardless, we can get the matter under control so the citizens will understand you are making some effort.”

Tami informed her fellow councilors they could demolish the property a portion at a time since funding is an issue.

In other business, the Council:

• Had received a letter from Akron Public Works Director Gary Horton informing the council Akron has a generator on a trailer city officials could use in the event of an electrical power failure. When the electricity goes out in Westfield, city officials must shut down the city’s wastewater and water systems to prevent sewage from backing up into residents’ homes.

Hummel explained they gladly accept Akron’s help but Westfield already has a generator on a trailer.

City officials would like to find a generator to permanently hook into the wastewater system to provide backup electricity to the sewer system pumps, explained Hummel. If it was computerized, the generators would not only run in emergencies but once every 27 days so that the generator stays in optimal operating condition.

Councilor Gerald Bohr told fellow councilors he’d looked into some of these and the price was about $27,000 for a generator.

City officials will continue to research options for this.

• Received no information needed to discuss enacting a utility rate increase.

Sioux Rural Water officials will conduct a water and wastewater rate study, which will take about three weeks.

• Learned city officials are still working with a vendor to have the water tower inspected.

Furthermore, City Water/Wastewater Operator Terry Jolin is almost finished with fixing broken water meters throughout the town.

• Unanimously approved a liquor license renewal for The Station.

• Was informed the Moreheads are working to eliminate the thorny “Goat’s Head” plants from the ball field. They will continue to spray herbicides on the area the rest of the summer. Hummel noted it takes seven years to kill these weeds.

He also suggested Little League teams who use the ball field have a Community Service Day before their seasons start.

• Was informed Railroad Drive has been graded and graveled and residents living along the street are appreciative.

• Learned Hummel was finished with reviewing the city’s revised Code of Ordinances, and Julie Madden was asked to review them. Then council will take steps to enact them.

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