City officials defend Central salvage plan

Published 5:23 am Tuesday, August 15, 2006

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
Mayor Donald D. Lyons strenuously disputed Willie Harrington's contention Monday night that the salvage value of Central Middle School could exceed $2 million.
Harrington appeared before Dowagiac City Council on behalf of Four Cs.
Harrington suggested that the "antique" masonry walls and floors could be worth "100 times" what they were when Central was constructed 80 years ago.
"All of the money that comes out of this old school should be put back into this community to save taxpayers money," Harrington said.
The state panel considering the brownfield plan meets today, which could remove the last hurdle to Central's imminent demolition.
Lyons tried to pin Harrington down on the "methodology" he used to arrive at his estimated value.
"I've been in construction for some 40 years," responded Harrington, who challenged Lyons for mayor in the November 2005 election after unsuccessfully trying to recall him from office several times.
"Who is the recognized authority that you're looking to to give you these numbers?" Lyons asked. "If I'm going to sit up here and recommend that we do a completely different deal to council members, I've got to be completely satisfied – and I'm not.
"We've gone through a lot of work with professional contractors, professional architects, professional engineering firms, to come to the conclusions we've come to – people with reputations and proven records of doing things they say they're going to do in construction, engineering and architecture.
"These are the people we're relying on," the mayor said. "If you have similar people that you're relying on, I'd like to know who they are. I'm asking a reasonable question."
Lyons noted the contractor doing the demolition estimated a salvage value he deducted from the cost of razing Central, so "we have that well in hand. We have numbers we're very comfortable with. Quite frankly, when I look at what he's done" compared to the incomplete Four Cs bus shelter project, he gives that contractor more credibility.
Harrington said the bus shelters were slowed by him having four brain tumors removed. "I'll get them done because I said I would."
City Manager Bill Nelson emphasized that the city and Dowagiac Union Schools agreed upon making salvage opportunities available to non-profit organizations, which many did several months ago.
In addition, the contractor has a meeting later this week with Habitat for Humanity, which inspected the building last week.
"Habitat has been a wonderful organization and has served this community well," the city manager said, "and if it can salvage things, I think that has value to the broader community. It's a known entity that has a good track record."
"There are also things that the contractor intends to salvage and utilize in the new building, and I think that's an important factor, as well," Nelson stated. "Again, I feel a little uncomfortable, particularly as we deal with individuals, providing any profit.
"Mr. Harrington mentioned taxes several times. Taxes are not going to increase as we build this project. There are no implications to our tax rates. To suggest otherwise or to leave anyone with that impression that that's the case would be inaccurate. A thousand bricks will be set aside for sale by one of the school foundations. We've tried to be responsible about this and about working with non-profit organizations," but Four Cs has yet to attain 503(c)(3) status.
Not only is the end of the time frame near, Nelson noted, "but we've experienced considerable vandalism in the last two weeks. Every piece of glass just about is gone. A lot of the plumbing was vandalized with baseball bats. There's a lot of damage. Those pristine floors and walls," to which Harrington alluded, in some cases no longer exist.
"Personally," Nelson said, "and I've had this discussion with Mr. Harrington three times in the last week, we have a plan, and I think it's a good plan, it's an appropriate plan and one we should stick with. That's my position."