Find Way to Raze Ruined Buildings

Twenty properties are on Wheeling’s list of buildings that ought to be demolished. Two of them have been there since 2008.

Instead of accelerating the process of razing the structures, city officials plan to use more than $142,000 earmarked for that purpose on another project.

Work on the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling began last year before city officials had enough money available to complete the project. Buildings in an area bounded by 15th, 16th, Wood and McColloch streets were torn down to make way for the park. The old Elks Playground also was removed.

Constructing a new Elks Playground is part of the project, but bids for the work came in more than $160,000 higher than expected. Plans had been to spend about $400,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for the playground.

Now, so construction can proceed, money will have to be added to that amount. City officials plan to obtain most of it by using more than $142,000 in CDBG funds that had been earmarked for demolition of dilapidated structures.

Despite the large number of decayed buildings that should be torn down, city officials have not been using CDBG money earmarked for the process as quickly as it arrives from Washington. City Economic and Community Development Director Nancy Prager said demolition money from the 2011 fiscal year still is being spent.

Prager blamed federal CDBG rules for the backlog. Buildings to be razed must be advertised in case private developers want to buy and renovate them. Appraisals must be obtained and asbestos “abatement” is required. Finally, the state Historic Preservation Office must sign off on demolition projects. Staffing limitations make it difficult to jump through all the federal hoops, Prager said.

That makes it convenient for city officials trying to find enough money to complete the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park. They can use the more than $142,000 meant for demolition projects on the East Wheeling work, instead.

In the meantime, a long list of buildings that ought to be taken down will remain standing longer than they should.

CDBG rules are too restrictive for local governments trying to use the money to do good things. That said, however, city officials should be concentrating on how to use funds earmarked for demolition of dilapidated buildings for that purpose, not bailing out the East Wheeling project. Otherwise, local officials’ protestations that the city does not have the resources to deal with ruined structures will ring hollow.