Owners told to raze, decontaminate former school buildings


News editor

With an order for condemnation and demolition of two former school buildings in the community first on the agenda, Florence City Council convened its regularly scheduled meeting Jan. 21.

Marion County Planning and Zoning officer Bobbi Strait told council members she had finally been able to enter the brick building in proper protective gear.

Strait said she found the floor of the basement 100 percent covered with at least a two-inch layer of feces plus dead birds and carcasses. In addition she estimated about five percent of the upper levels were covered with the same.

Strait said the brick structure is not unsound. She felt it could be rescued. However, her recommendation included the owners securing the building so that no one would be able to gain entry.

She suggested new plywood over windows, new locks on doors (locked tightly so that no entry can be made), and the roof repaired to keep birds and weather out. She also recommended roof tiles be secured.

Strait said the owners need to decontaminate the building to eliminate the current health hazard. Strait will secure plaques to all doors so that anyone approaching the building knows it is a hazard.

She requested the owners and any contractors contact her to find out what kind of protective gear they will need to enter the former school.

Strait recommended a two-week period to get the buildings secured, with the doors locked, and 45 days to get the roof repaired and the windows covered.

She recommended the limestone building be demolished.

Councilman Bryan Harper made a motion to follow Strait's advice and Trayce Warner seconded it. Before a vote, Randy Mills amended the motion to allow only a 96-hour period to secure the building. Mills' motion carried.

Owners Larry and Karen Hastings, who were present at the meeting, also were given until March 3 to get a report to the city showing the roof and windows of the brick building repaired, roofing tiles secured, and a plan of action in place to decontaminate the building.

A written plan to demolish the limestone building and remove the debris (including a completion date) also must be presented at the March 3 meeting.

"It's a good thing for Florence that we are moving forward on this," said Mayor Greg Winn in an interview. "This has been an eyesore and a problem for far too long."

The Hastings' also were advised to contact Kansas Department of Health and Environment before decontamination or demolition.

The hearing was closed and the regular city council meeting convened.

In other business, the council:

— gave permission to PRIDE to display a 52-inch bronze statue, a tribute to the fallen soldier, in the city building. The statue is eventually to be placed in Veteran's Park when the park is completed.

— discussed a proposal by Winn to disburse some of the funds in the contribution made to the city for the purpose of helping individuals pay their utility bills. Winn knew of two candidates in need of assistance. No action was taken.

— heard from police chief Conroy Miller that a stolen semi truck and trailer were found Jan. 14 in Florence. Suspects in the theft were spotted in Florence and a cross-county chase ensued. Florence police were assisted by Peabody police officers and Marion County Sheriff's Department, but the suspects got away.

Miller also noted Marion County officers and Burns police helped arrest a Florence resident wanted by Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department.

Miller's report included the theft of two chain saws from Williams Service. That case is under investigation.

— approved the purchase of 56 bags of street patch at a cost of $484.50.

— approved the expense of sending Phil Baldwin and Larry Scriven to Kansas Rural Water Association convention March 25-27 at Wichita. Baldwin also will take the wastewater exam at this time.

— heard the water department fixed a sewer problem on Grandview, cleaning out eight feet of tree roots before getting the sewer back in service.

— heard from Janet Robinson the city audit by Knudsen and Monroe was completed.

— heard from fire chief Parmley that department contact for the community disaster plan is Mark Slater with Matt Williams as alternate. Parmley also stated he is working on a grant application for a new fire station. The grant would pay for materials and members would put up the building.

— heard that Warner will set up a meeting with rural townships about increasing contract fees with Florence fire department.

— approved a motion by Warner to send Robinson and Baldwin to the 2008 Leadership Marion County program at a cost of $175 each. The city will pay the tuition fee.

— heard from Mills that in February the council will need to begin looking at a water tower project, sewer replacement project, and the Fifth Street project.