County officials are asking Butte-Silver Bow commissioners for $220,000 in taxpayer money to shore up a shared wall between two buildings in Uptown Butte so one of them that has caved in can be demolished.
But after another hour of debate Wednesday night in a demolition dispute that involves the adjacent buildings, commissioners postponed any decision on the request, leaving everything in limbo as it has been for weeks.
There are some new twists, however.
A 2019 drone video of a building at 135 E. Park St. was played at Wednesday’s council meeting showing part of the roof caved in, floors collapsed inside and a buckled wall. Photos taken last week showed more damage and now most of the roof is gone.
Planning Director Dylan Pipinich said the building was in danger of collapsing like a vacant warehouse in Uptown Butte did several years ago, and Fire Marshal Kelly Lee said it was a danger to the public and his fellow firefighters “and can’t stay there anymore.”
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“This building is a real public safety hazard,” Pipinich said. “It’s a real issue. It has to be abated immediately. It’s going to come down and it’s a miracle that it hasn’t already.”
But action on it has become entangled with the fate of two adjacent buildings that for years served as the Butte Rescue Mission’s thrift store — buildings that preservationists in Butte and a majority of commissioners do not want torn down.
A county official has formally tagged those buildings as dangerous, too, but commissioners have twice rejected a proposal from Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher’s administration to pay the Mission $38,500 for the parcels and then have all three buildings demolished.
County officials say it’s the safest way to abate the buildings quickly with the lowest tab for taxpayers. The county estimates its demolition work would cost $160,000, minus $25,000 that the previous owner of 135 E. Park paid the county in a settlement.
But under the proposal with the Mission, the county would then own the land and future development at the site could recoup some or all of those costs, officials say.
If the thrift buildings are to be spared, the administration says, the shared wall needs to be shored up so 135 can be demolished. Engineering design work for the wall would cost an estimated $50,000 and construction of the wall would cost about $150,000.
Those are just rough estimates from an engineering firm so the additional $20,000 in spending authority is cushion, and even then, actual costs could run higher, Pipinich said.
Bids would be sought from private companies to do the wall construction and design but county crews could demolish 135.
The Mission has vacated the thrift buildings and its board favored the county’s $38,500 offer, but commissioners rejected the proposal because it included demolition. That left the Mission with ownership of thrift buildings that must either be sold or abated.
According to one engineering firm, it would take well over $200,000 in repair work to make the thrift buildings safe. The Mission says its primary mission is helping the homeless and hungry and it can’t afford abatement costs.
But in a new development, the Mission has entered into negotiations with a private citizen, Jeannie Moylan, on possibly selling her the buildings.
A sale had not been finalized as of Thursday but a deal could benefit both parties. Moylan wants to save and renovate the buildings and the Mission wants to shed liability and remove itself from the dispute between county officials and commissioners.
Council Chairwoman Cindi Shaw, who is among several commissioners wanting to save the thrift buildings, called the possible sale “exciting news.”
Moylan agreed and said she has been talking to contractors, insurance companies, a bank and county officials and commissioners about the possible purchase. She said one contractor called the buildings “solid” and was excited to work on them.
“Of course, I’m the one taking on all the liability, coming up with all the money and doing all the work, but I want to do it to help this community who’s trying to save all these buildings,” she told commissioners.
She agreed that 135 is dangerous and needs to be taken down but said there are people who could do that “gently” at less cost. Commissioner Dan Callahan agreed and said Moylan was willing to buy and abate the thrift buildings, so there are “other options.”
Shaw wanted to know what the fate of the thrift buildings would be if the council agreed to authorize $220,000 for shoring up the wall.
As it stands, Pipinich said, the thrift buildings were formally declared as dangerous last month and under a county ordinance, there are 40 days left for the Mission or any subsequent owner to present an abatement plan and start work.
But 135 is in such bad shape, he said, immediate action on it is needed. If the thrift buildings are to be spared and repaired, then the shared wall must be shored up soon so 135 can be demolished soon for public safety reasons.
The county had the drone footage of 135 taken in 2019 and it shows about a third of the roof caved in, other sections sagging and clearly collapsed sections of interior.
It was shown to commissioners as were photos taken last week by the Fire Department. The photos show most of the roof gone, buckled and leaning walls and virtually all of the interior collapsed with piles of bricks and debris at the bottom.
Commissioner John Sorich, who was among four commissioners on the losing end of the recent demolition votes, said he understood passions behind preservation but was “extremely frustrated with this whole thing.”
“You know, I’m hearing from people and they’re saying, ‘What the hell are we doing up here? What are we thinking?’ I’m hearing that from a lot of people. You know, $220,000 to build a wall reminds me of a bridge going nowhere but to the bottom of a building that has no future.”
Commissioners who have voted the other way have also expressed frustration, but it will likely be at least two more weeks before any action, if any is taken.