There is a bit of a mess in the 500 block of Main Street, where about two weeks ago a portion of a brick wall fell away from the 519/521 building, leading to the closure of the sidewalk and one of two southbound traffic lanes in the middle of downtown.
Oct. 9 the Newton City Commission took up the issue, asking city staff how soon cleanup and restoration can begin.
“I am concerned about an open-ended time frame, meanwhile we have one lane of traffic there,” said Leroy Koehn, city commissioner. “You know how that backs up when there is a train and people have to wait. How patient should we be?”
A portion of the brick facade fell away from the building Sept. 24 — tearing off an awning and closing the sidewalk and a portion of the southbound traffic and parking lanes on Main Street.
The city has been in contact with the building owner, and all the work thus far has been behind the scenes. Building owners have hired a structural engineer and are waiting on insurance providers.
“We are waiting for a structural engineer to render that part of (the building) safe so that folks can work underneath it,” said Scott Metzler, fire chief for the city of Newton. “I am reluctant to say it is OK for someone to clean up the bricks and remove the awning.”
“What the structural engineer has preliminarily reported to us is that (the damage) is not cosmetic, there are structural issues with the eastern facade that faces Main Street,” said Kelly McElroy, assistant city manager for the city of Newton. “The western half of the building, at some point in the past, was stabilized with additional I-beams. It has been safe for occupancy. … They have been working with (the city) on occupancy of that portion of the building so that they can continue on in business.”
The structural engineer has prepared some preliminary options for the building, but their work is not yet final.
The commission learned that city staff has been working with the building owner in the past two weeks, not only to get the street reopened but to work through challenges as the result of the building being part of a historic district and listed on multiple registries.
“It would be of note that this building is within the downtown historic district and is also listed on the local, state and federal register individually,” McElroy said. “It is a contributing building, it is an important building which means it is very authentic to its original state.”
According to a search of the Harvey County Appraiser's records, the building was constructed in 1890. City staff believes the building was constructed even earlier — in 1878. The most recent building permit issued for the building was in 1996. Records list two retail spaces within the building, which is appraised at $142,000 and owned by a limited liability corporation in Hutchinson.
“What fell off of the building is the 1930's facade, which is what was called the buildings period of historical significance,” McElroy said. “The original brick that you see underneath is from the 1870s. What they are working to determine is with the rest of the facade that is left, what is the structural condition of that brick.”
Options for the building may include removing the 1930s brick, reinforcing the 1870s brick and moving forward. If that is not an option, it may be necessary to tear the wall down and rebuild it from the ground up.
It is unclear what role the owner's insurance company will play in the restoration of the building — if any at all.
City staff has been looking for possible grant funds to assist with the reconstruction of the building due to its historical listings.
“Unfortunately the monies available at the state level, even though they would be awarded in November and December, would not be available until summer of the next year — and you can not start the project until the grant is awarded. That is not an option, we can not leave it like this all winter,” McElroy said.
In other business the commission
• Approved closure of Athletic Park Circle Oct. 27 for the 2018 Monster Dash 5K run. The event is a fundraiser for the Heart-2-Heart Child Advocacy Center.
• Approved the plat of the Suderman Addition, property purchased by the city south of First Street between Spencer and Hillside connecting to the Kansas Logistics Park.
• Approved the purchase of property at 1930 SE 19th in the Newton Industrial Park. In May of 2008 the city entered into an agreement with a company from Oklahoma for the construction of a warehousing facility. The company went out of business. The agreement stated that if the company did not develop the property the land would go back to the city; however, the property was never re-deeded back to the city. In 2018, Harvey County listed the property in a tax sale, and it was purchased at auction for $2,100. When the new owner learned the cost of special assessments and restrictions on the property, they offered to sell the property back to the city for the amount they had purchased it for.