Demolition Funds Shifted to Playground Project

By IAN HICKS

Staff Writer

WHEELING – City leaders are planning to spend $555,340 in federal Community Development Block Grant dollars to build the Elks Playground – about half of the $1.15 million the city will receive this fiscal year through the program.

City Council originally had planned to spend $400,000 in CDBG funds on the project, but bids came in more than $160,000 higher than expected. To cover that shortfall, council will move more than $142,619 that had been budgeted for demolition projects to the playground.

The additional funding will come from savings in a curb and sidewalk project – $12,721 – and also a $22,000 state grant.

Transferring the funds should not impact future demolitions, as city development officials have said they have more federal funding available to tear down dilapidated buildings than they can spend.

However, there are 20 buildings on the city’s list of unsafe structures to be razed using CDBG funds. The city targeted more than half of those buildings for demolition between 2008-2010, yet they still stand.

Nancy Prager, director of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department, said using federal funds to tear down buildings is a time-consuming process.

She said staffing limitations prevent her office from spending all the money allocated for that purpose.

“We’re still spending money from fiscal year 2011 on demolition,” she said.

The city budgeted $200,000 in CDBG funds for demolition in fiscal 2012-13, and another $100,000 for demolition this current fiscal year. Taking into account the money that’s already been spent, the proposal to move $142,619 to the Elks project would leave the city with about $115,000 of that $300,000 available – enough to keep the demolition program going at its current pace, Prager said.

Prager said what makes these types of demolitions complicated is that the city must advertise proposed demolition projects to find out whether there is any private interest in rehabilitating the properties, perform appraisals and asbestos abatements and obtain a response from the State Historic Preservation Office clearing the city to proceed – a step which by itself can take one to three months.

Prager said the transfers from the curb project and also from this year’s demolition line item – $100,000 – are allowed through HUD without a vote by city council.

However, the city will need council’s approval to transfer an additional $42,619 in unspent funds from the 2012-13 CDBG budget to the playground project. A public hearing also is required, which is set to take place at 5:30 p.m. July 16 in the first-floor council chambers at the City County Building, immediately before council’s regular meeting.

Combined with the $22,000 state grant, the additional CDBG funds would bring the total available for the playground project to $577,340.

The old Elks Playground was removed last year as part of the demolition project to make way for the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park on the block bounded by 15th, 16th, Wood and McColloch streets.

The new and improved facility the city plans to build in its place will include new basketball courts, separate play areas suitable for toddlers as well as school-age children, a swing set, lights, restroom facilities and rubberized fall protection underneath the play equipment.