Officials vote again to order Heck building razed

-A A +A

Attorneys, board members, residents converge for hearing

Managing Editor

Editor’s notes: This is the first of a two-part story on a hearing conducted by the Cannelton Board of Public Works and Safety Monday.

In our print edition, the byline of this story was incorrect. It has been corrected here.

CANNELTON – The Cannelton Board of Public Works and Safety voted unanimously Monday to proceed with orders contained in a notice of violation issued for the former Heck Hardware building.

Their vote ended a hearing that lasted just over two hours in which the building’s owner, Carolyn Barr, testified she had invested tens of thousands of dollars and much work to save the historical structure from disappearing.

As the News has reported in several stories, most recently in April and May, city officials have worked for years – the exact number was disputed during the hearing – to urge Barr to get the building into safe condition or tear it down. She said Monday it had been improved to the point it no longer posed a danger to passers-by, although it still presented hazards common to many construction sites. Others at the hearing disputed the safety of people walking near the structure.

The city officials had previously ordered Barr to tear down the Heck building and imposed deadlines, which expired without action satisfactory to them.

Mayor Mary Snyder read from a list of requirements in the notice of violation that define a building as safe, such as its ability to prevent the entry of rain and vermin. The notice instructed Barr to clean up the site by Oct. 9 and to have demonstrated “substantial action” toward that goal by Sept. 23.

Seated next to Snyder, Jean Blanton identified herself as an attorney with the Ziemer, Stayman, Weitzel and Shoulders law firm in Evansville.

Attorney Herb Davis from the Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald and Hahn firm in Evansville, represented Barr.

Kelly Gardner, structural engineer with Associated Engineers of Owensboro, testified on behalf of Barr. He said he visited the site May 6 at Barr’s request because she said she needed help preparing plans for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security Division of Fire and Safety, which he described as “the code authority.”

“My understanding is Cannelton doesn’t have authority over buildings,” he said.

Some work had been done to shore up walls and “she intended to restore the building from the inside out,” Gardner explained. She had also had some foundation work done and installed some flooring joists, he said, and he determined the repairs by that point had made the building structurally sound.

“It was not safe for occupancy by the public, but (was) for contractors,” he testified.

Barr’s intent was to make the first floor available for some type of retail business, Gardner explained, and the second floor would be residential.

Barr learned she had to have a state permit to perform the work, and improvements were halted until she could obtain one. That process involved submitting plans for approval. Gardner said he participated in a teleconference earlier in the day to discuss a reviewer’s assessment and code interpretations. The state official he talked to provided a list of work that had to be completed before the work could proceed. All of the items could be completed in as little as 12-and-a-half and 32-and-a-half hours, the engineer said.

Gregory Sekula, southern regional director for Indiana Landmarks, also testified on Barr’s behalf, calling her building a contributing structure to Cannelton’s listing in the National Register of Historical Places.

Built in about 1880 as a hardware store, it “contributes to the history of the community, he said, adding it’s recognized on local, state and national levels. Its architect, Charles Meyer, worked in Louisville, Ky., and designed many significant structures in that area, Sekula added.

“Indiana Landmarks certainly would like to see the building preserved,” he told the board, explaining it contributes to “a wonderful collection of historic buildings” and despite its condition, “it contributes to that; it still retains original architectural features, particularly its façade … we consider that an irreplaceable element that could not be fabricated today.” It serves as a benefit to the community, he continued, saying, preserving historic buildings “contributes to a sense of place” for a community. He first examined the Heck building in 2003 or ’04. His agency wasn’t in a position then to step in, Sekula said, “but we were hoping someone would step forward.”

“We are hopeful that the community will support (Barr’s) efforts,” he said. “We know progress has been slower than folks would have liked, but in the end, we think that saving the building is going to be a long-term benefit to the community.”

Barr was sworn in next and when asked her occupation, said, “I’m self-employed. I try to save old buildings.”

Ownership of the property was transferred Aug. 30 to the Harding Land Trust, Barr said, describing that as “the entity that my attorney advised me to put the property in.” She had worked for its previous owners, Ray and Jewell Harding. She was interested in the building “for a considerable amount of time,” however, she explained, and the building collapsed partially after she actually got involved, which she estimated was in 2008. The debris removal required after that event was “a tremendous job” involving timbers she described as “massive” and “really hard to handle.”

Davis presented a number of photographs and asked Barr to describe what they depicted. One showed the building’s façade, others depicted other architectural features and some showed foundation work and I-joists installed in March or April to support flooring replacement on the first floor. Creating a floor from which to work and stabilizing walls were accomplished, but further work is awaiting the state approval, she said.

Her attorney asked Barr how many hours she has put into refurbishing the building.

“More like months,” she replied, estimating they add up to a year-and-a-half to two years. She has spent $40,000 to $50,000, she also said.

Davis also asked why the project is important to her.

“Because of all the things Mr. Sekula highlighted,” she responded. “I think it’s a beautiful façade.” She also mentioned “a beautiful door in the back corner” and “an absolutely gorgeous sandstone foundation the full length of the basement.”

Editor's note: In Part 2 of this story, city residents testify in favor of and against continuation of the project.