Monessen Officials Desperate to Demolish Structure, Ignore Laws
MONESSEN — Monessen Officials are desperately trying to demolish a historic structure in Downtown Monessen, and are willing to ignore laws to do so.
Last year, the City’s previous administration was successful in obtaining a $199,000 grant through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to stabilize the roof of 500 Donner Avenue, the former Monessen Savings and Trust Building. The current administration claims they cannot afford the $30,000 match to the grant; however, there are organizations interested in helping them acquire the match. Additionally, the City has not been able to say where funding will come from for the demolition costs, which more than likely will exceed their $50,000 estimate. The Mayor has acknowledged that he cannot justify telling the public that costs will more than likely be around $750,000 — $800,000 in order to abate the lead, asbestos, and pigeon waste from the building, and haul the materials away in a proper manner. State Route 906 (Donner Avenue) will also need to be closed by PennDOT, and West Penn Power would need to address its high voltage lines adjacent to the building. The City would also have to go through the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) to get their clearance for demolition, since the building is a historic structure. The City insinuated that the contractor they have in mind would “bill them later” for demolition costs.
The Beaux Arts Style building, built in 1905, and which has been regionally and nationally recognized, is situated on an aqueduct contracted in 1902, based on City records. It was designed and built by Pittsburgh Architect Marius Rousseau. It is believed the aqueduct connects to the Monongahela River, and intentionally creates a flood zone under the building, to act as buoyancy to support the building’s weight. The building sits at the corner of 5th Street and Donner Avenue (State Route 906). It is framed in Steel from Carnegie Steel and local cut limestone. It served as offices for the bank, doctors, lawyers, dentists, and also served as a Masonic Hall.
It appears the current City administration is willing to ignore environmental rules and bidding procedures in order to hastily demolish the building, due to what the Mayor calls an “emergency”. Last week, a small portion of the roof collapsed, causing some of the bricks to fall from the parapet. It does not appear to have affected the structural integrity of the building. The building is framed in steel and stone, and appears to be solid, except for its wooden portions. The City to this date has not gotten a certified structural engineer to look at the building; additionally the City’s new Code Enforcement Officer is not certified to make such a determination. The City condemned the building last week, along with three others, without the proper inspections.
The contractor the City has in mind has been fined several times in the past for improprieties and negligent procedures in abatement and demolition of other buildings, and not marking utilities, therefore hitting a gas line in Downtown Monessen, nearly blowing up a City block. The City Officials, in order to save money, have been heard saying they are willing to tear the building down and leave the pile of rubble present, which would contain hazardous materials, which would become airborne throughout the community, and would pollute the river, which is near the building. They have also stated that they would be willing to ignore state and federal rules for removing hazardous waste. Additionally, the aqueduct runs under the Cleveland Cliffs Coke Plant to the river. If the aqueduct were to collapse, it would be catastrophic for the Coke works, and for Downtown Monessen, as it could cause and explosion.
There are numerous other buildings that are in far worse condition than 500 Donner Avenue, including a building several doors down with Mayor Mozer’s political sign attached to it, where the floor has caved in, leaving a gaping hole next a public sidewalk, as well as other buildings and homes with collapsed roofs, that have little to no historical significance.
The 500 Donner Building has an interested buyer, who would like to see the building renovated for apartment units and retail space, similar to the Eisenberg Building a block away, which had similar problems and was successfully renovated in 2017. The interested buyer has been trying to contact the new administration since January, with little success. The interested buyer is ready to step in and begin stabilizing and remediating the building immediately, at no cost to the city; however, the new administration refuses to allow it to happen. The City refuses to sell building, and refuses to accept the offers of help to stabilize and renovate the structure, which the City owns.
The restoration of the historic structure is supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Pennsylvania, Preservation Pittsburgh, The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh, and the Greater Monessen Historical Society. Monessen’s historic properties are in-demand right now, as new owners have acquired over 100 vacant properties in order to renovate, and as the National Instagram and Television sensation, Cheap Old Houses visited Monessen last year, in order to showcase architectural gems.
City Officials are prepared to spitefully, willfully and wantonly ignore environmental laws, procurement procedures, and the desire to rehabilitate a historic structure at no cost to the City, with no apparent reward to the City as a whole. This is happening while the new administration grapples with a lack of funds to purchase road salt, cover payroll, pension funds, and general government operations. City Officials are willing to sink the City further into debt, even though they have other options.