Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Preservation by Neglect Becomes Demolition by Neglect

I'm sure some of you thought I had lost my mind advocating preservation by neglect in my last post.  There is a fine line between preservation by neglect and demolition by neglect.  A building that has been mothballed, or closed up with a tight roof and closed windows, locked doors, and a solid foundation, will remain a viable part of the streetscape through years of neglect.  However, the minute the roof starts to leak, the windows are broken, or the doors are kicked in, demolition by neglect sets in.  The building's demise is heartbreaking to watch and is often the result of an equally sad situation such as bankruptcy or death of the owner or crime in the neighborhood.  The final result is often a mandate from the municipality that the neglected building be demolished because it is hazardous to passerby.  

Unfortunately, demolition by neglect can be used by unscrupulous developers and home owners to circumvent historic district architectural review boards (ARB).  Examples abound of developers wanting to tear down a historic building to replace it with a McMansion or commercial behemoth that does not fit into the architectural guidelines.  Rather than work with the ARB, the developer will sometimes ignore their ruling and remove architectural features from the building such as siding or windows and then leave the building in that state where the weather will begin the demolition process.  A high profile example of this situation is happening in Waterford, Virginia  where the Simms' House was caught up in such a maelstrom that began in 1996, resulted in the demolition of the neglected and structurally compromised house in 2006, and continues today as a fight over what can be built on the lot.

In our area, a rather public case of demolition by neglect is culminating with the razing of the old Blacksburg Middle School (Renee Kuhlmann's morning commute in yesterday's PreservationNation post).  Due to budgetary issues, Montgomery County didn't maintain the building.  Roof leaks ruined the gym floor and caused severe mold problems.  While many saw the building as a potential community center, the County saw it as a cash cow with its location on Main Street at the southern gateway to downtown and its acres of athletic fields.  Ironically, the lack of maintenance quite possibly cost the County additional money when the Blacksburg High School gym collapsed last year, causing a scramble to rehouse high school and then middle school students.  After much consternation, middle schoolers are commuting to neighboring Christiansburg to attend their old Middle School which had been maintained. and asbestos is being removed from the neglected old Blacksburg Middle School in preparation for its upcoming demolition.   The County will have its cash cow, while middle school students will remain in Christiansburg until a new high school is built.

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