Time taking a toll on historic downtown building in Spencer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
shuffman @salisburypost.com
SPENCER ó A historic building in the heart of Spencer’s downtown district is causing problems for town leaders.
The building at 129 Fifth St. and the intersection of Yadkin Avenue is collapsing, its walls and roof caving in.
At several recent Board of Aldermen meetings, town leaders discussed the structure, saying they fear a brick could fall from its upper reaches and strike a pedestrian or car.
A sign on the building’s front door warns that it’s not safe for human occupancy. A peek through the window reveals a mess, with a collapsing roof and ceiling that allows rain and whatever else to enter.
The building’s rear wall has begun to tumble inward.
“It’s in very bad shape,” said Dustin Wilson, Spencer’s land management director. “It’d cost an arm and a leg to bring it back to standard.”
The building has an interesting history. According to town records, it was built in 1907 and once served as the Connell Hotel and Lunch. The building housed the mayor’s office around 1910.
Wilson said town leaders have been aware of the building’s poor condition for six to eight months, since black plastic covering the front windows dropped and allowed pedestrians a look inside.
The town budget aldermen approved Tuesday included $56,000 for the building’s demolition. Aldermen have said they want to be reimbursed any funds spent on demolition.
Wilson said taking the building down should be a last resort, though if deterioration continues, there will soon be no choice.
He estimated the cost of renovating the building at $250,000 to $300,000 ó though he admitted that’s “a very ballpark figure.” The building’s tax value is $86,515.
Wilson said the price of renovating the structure could be lessened. For instance, he said the restoration could be cheapened by turning the building into a one-story structure rather than the two stories it has always been.
Wilson also said numerous tax credits are available to help with the work. “There are ways the state and federal government will help,” he said.
Wilson said town leaders would much prefer seeing the building restored as opposed to demolished.
“The last thing I want to see is it taken down,” he said. “It’s a central part of our business district.”
The building belongs to Rowan County residents Genoal and Dylan Russell, though Genoal said a contract to sell the structure was signed about 10 years ago. She said Larry Graves, a Linwood resident, is buying the property and has been responsible for its upkeep for 10 years.
“I’ve considered it his building since then,” Russell said, referring to the contract she and her husband signed with Graves in 1998.
She said at the time Graves began the purchase, “For a building that age, it was in good repair. The ceiling didn’t leak, the floors were sound.”
Russell said at one time she operated a ceramic shop out of the building. She admitted its deterioration troubles her, though she said she hadn’t stepped inside in years.
“I don’t know how a building could get that bad that fast,” Russell said. “I feel sad when I drive by there.”
Contacted last week, Graves admitted he’s responsible for the building’s upkeep and said he has every intention of saving the structure.
He stores antiques there and said he’s in the process of having architectural plans drawn that will rework the building as a one-story structure. Graves said members of Spencer’s Historic Preservation Commission will have to approve those plans before work can proceed.
“I’ve got to have something drawn up this week,” Graves said. “Either that or tear the whole thing down.”
He said the building’s deterioration began when winds from a storm pulled loose part of the roof. He said the deterioration has steadily continued and said a rear wall has shifted and begun to collapse, in part due to a lack of footings, which was indicative of construction methods of the early 1900s.
Graves said he figures it’ll cost $40,000 to rebuild the structure’s rear wall and get roof support trusses back in place. He said he plans to have the work started soon.
Town officials said they’d like nothing better.
Wilson said town leaders have no idea if the $56,000 appropriated for the demolition will cover the cost. He said if demolition is necessary, it’s expected to be “very expensive” because of the building’s location and the fact that an adjoining structure must be protected.
When the work was advertised for bid earlier this year, the town didn’t get much in the way of responses. Plans are to open the building at 10 a.m. June 26 so those in the business of razing structures can assess the project before making a cost estimate.
Wilson said town leaders are keeping their fingers crossed that Graves will make good on his promise to fix the structure. “We’d like nothing better than to see the building saved,” he said.