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6-5-13


TUMBLING DOWN
During demolition, historic church crashes onto neighboring house


www.youtube.com/watch?v=7okRZ6TXa4g

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

A partial collapse. Then a full demolition that resulted in a partial--albeit unintentional--demolition of a neighboring home.

Yes, it was an active week surrounding one of Platte City’s most historic structures--the old Methodist Church that stood since 1867 at the corner of Third and Ferrel Streets.

The demolition that went wrong was captured on video by The Landmark. The newspaper’s footage was picked up by every Kansas City television news station, as well as a St. Joseph station.

Demolition was being conducted by Jeff and Trevor Bash of Bash Excavating. Jeff Bash owned the old church, so he was doing his own demolition project.

The Landmark’s dramatic video is available on YouTube (enter “Demolitioon of old church” in the search box), at Facebook.com/ivanfoley and at Twitter.com/ivanfoley.

It shows the church coming down, with the famous steeple falling inward as planned, but the east wall falling in a direction not planned. (See Between the Lines column for the owner’s comments on what caused the problem.) www.plattecountylandmark.com/ifoley.htm

The east wall fell to the east, landing on top of a neighboring vacant house, causing significant damage.

That house--which is foreclosure property owned by Bank of America--will now need to be demolished, according to engineers hired by the city of Platte City.

The trouble with the stability of the church started last Wednesday night about 9:30 when the north wall collapsed. The collapse stretched about half the length of the wall, leaving a gaping hole that attracted on-lookers.

The Landmark broke the story on Twitter at about 9:50 that night, and 41 Action News picked up The Landmark’s report at the close of its 10 p.m. newscast.

Media and curious onlookers spent Thursday shooting pictures of the scene, and city officials roped off the area to ensure the public’s safety.

Bricks from the collapse had slid into Ferrel Street. A stained glass window also slid into the street, but was virtually undamaged.

Ironically, that initial collapse came exactly one week after the old church had been featured on the front page of The Landmark in a story detailing how Bash intended to restore the building. The hope was that it would someday become home to a restaurant or perhaps a winery.

Bash had said an engineer had told him the building was structurally sound.

“We’re not tearing the church down,” Bash stated in that May 22 Landmark article. “The church structure is in darn good shape, straight as a pin, but the interior isn’t yet safe for visitors.”

That outlook all changed last Wednesday night when the north wall came down.

Bash blamed several factors.

“We had a four inch rain. We had not had time to rebuild the area up by the steeple and (the rain) saturated there,” Bash said after the wall collapse.

By late Friday, the city’s engineers had determined the building unsafe for stabilization and renovation. Bash, after having two or three private engineers give opinions, eventually agreed.

“We tried to save the old building, but they (engineers) think it’s a hazard,” Bash told The Landmark Friday afternoon.

Asked how the demolition would be done, Bash told the newspaper on Friday that: “We’ll get a track hoe, start on a corner and start picking it apart,” he said, indicating the building would basically “fold” inward.

“It’s not rocket science,” he told The Landmark in a phone conversation Friday.

City officials hated to see the historic church have to come down.

“It’s a shame to lose this building,” Mayor Frank Offutt said in advance of Monday’s demolition. “The building has been part of the community my entire life.”

Historical records indicate the building was constructed in 1867 as a home for the Platte City Methodist Church. It had also served as the local Masonic Lodge for many years.

The building had not been occupied for around 20 years.

“The city appreciates Mr. Bash’s willingness to step forward to renovate the building and we also appreciate his attempts to save the building after the partial collapse. In the end, both of our engineers advised Mr. Bash and the city staff that the building is too unstable and simply too dangerous to think about working on or around.

“The danger to the public was too great to do anything other than move forward with demolition,” Offutt added.

DEMOLITION DAY
TURNS EVENTFUL

Preliminary demolition work started around 9:15 Monday morning, with Bash and his son--who own and operate Bash Excavating--clearing debris from the interior of the structure.

The men stopped at varying points to remove and salvage the original stained glass windows.

D.J. Gehrt and other city officials were getting nervous watching Bash and his son enter the structure to remove the windows by hand.

“He’s a property owner taking a risk on his own property,” Gehrt said out loud at one point. “But this is making me nervous.”

Gehrt relayed that he had mentioned on the phone to a city-hired engineer that Bash was entering the building on foot to remove windows. He described the engineer’s response as: “You’ve got to be (kidding) me?”

After the windows were removed, Bash announced to no one in particular that: “The show starts now.”

His son then started demolition work with the track hoe. Things were going well and progressing smoothly until a downward push on top of the creased roof brought down the steeple from the west, but the east wall fell to the east instead of falling inward.

The result was it crashed on top of the house next door, destroying the west side of the house and much of the roof.

City officials said that house at 305 Ferrel had been vacant for at least a year and a half. Bank of America had foreclosed upon the previous owners.

Bash said his insurance company will be working with the bank’s insurance to come up with a plan on how to proceed after Monday’s incident.

According to city engineers, the home cannot be repaired and will need to be demolished.

“Following a visit by our engineers on Tuesday morning, our engineers’ opinion is that the house is not suitable for repair and needs to be demolished,” Gehrt said.

“However, while not stable it does not appear to be so badly damaged as to require the city to take emergency actions/immediate demolition,” he added.

Gehrt said the city will work with Bank of America to “implement a rapid decision and resolution to either stabilize or demolish” the house.

A home next to the Bank of America house would be threatened if the bank-owned house would collapse. The city has advised the Thompson family-- residents in that home at 309 Ferrel--to be cautious in entering.

“But we did not prohibit them from returning,” Gehrt emphasized.

“I spoke with Mrs. Thompson early (Tuesday) afternoon and let her know the city was not preventing her from entering or occupying the house, but that our engineer’s opinion was that it would be wiser if they did not stay in the house until the Bank of America either stabilized or demolished the damaged house,” Gehrt said.

Members of the Thompson family on Tuesday afternoon told The Landmark they were spending some daytime hours at the home but planned on sleeping at the home of relatives or other locations at least temporarily.

Meanwhile, Bash is continuing clean-up at the site of the church demolition. Third Street was reopened for traffic on Tuesday, but much debris still remained on the lot and the side street (Ferrel) remained closed to through-traffic.

“As long as the property owners continue to make progress on the clean-up, the city has not discussed a firm schedule for completion,” Gehrt said.

FUTURE PLANS

Bash told The Landmark this week that he does not yet know what he’ll do with the property in absence of the church building.

As for the city, Gehrt said it’s tough to say if Monday’s demolition that went wrong will spur any regulations on such matters from the city.

“We will always take a look at events and determine if there are ways to improve the way they are handled. This situation was unusual in that the owners elected to do this work themselves. Fourth class cities have limited ability to regulate what property owners wish to do with their own property,” Gehrt remarked.