Thieves won’t delay demolition of former JFS building

LISBON – Someone has been found to demolish the old county welfare office for only $10,000, but Columbiana County commissioners were worried the recent theft of $30,000 in copper from the building might drive up the cost.

Commissioners voted at this week’s meeting to hire Russ James Contracting, a Zanesville company that specializes in tearing down buildings for a minimal fee in exchange for what it can salvage.

The three-story former county Department of Job and Family Services building on Nelson Avenue has been vacant since April 2012, when the JFS moved to the new county government services complex off state Route 45. Constructed in the 1950s, the building had served as the JFS’ home since the 1970s.

Commissioners originally balked at demolishing the building after being told it would cost $150,000 to $250,000 to do so and remove the asbestos inside. They changed their mind after finding James and learning it would cost only $24,460 to remove the asbestos, which has already been done.

Commission Chairman Mike Halleck said the reason James agreed to raze the building for no more than $10,000 was he intended to sell the copper plumbing and wiring and whatever else he could salvage.

“He gets to keep what he can salvage. That’s why the price is so low,” Halleck said.

During an inspection of the building with James on Tuesday, commissioners discovered thieves had broken in and removed an estimated $30,000 in copper. They were concerned the loss of potential scrap revenue might nix the deal with James.

“Obviously, he had some concerns, but in the end (James) was a man of his word” and agreed to stand by the original deal, despite the change in circumstances, Halleck said.

When asked when the break-in occurred, Halleck estimated it must have been sometime in the past two months. “Who knows? We haven’t been going over there everyday,” he said.

As part of the deal, James will also demolish two small dilapidated garages located on the County Home property west of town in Center Township. He will also dispose of the debris at both locations.

Commissioners plan to move quickly with the JFS demolition. “I expect by the end of the month you’ll see a vacant lot,” Halleck said.

Although commissioners have no specific plans for property yet, they have talked about constructing a new county office complex that would house the county development office and the county port authority.