Buildings need to be razed
Confusion over who owns them
By Scott Bellile
Members of the New London Public Library and Museum Board agree that two buildings across the street from the library must be demolished, but the board questions who would pay the bill.
It was unclear at the board’s Jan. 16 meeting whether the board or the city of New London owns the vacant buildings at 401 and 405 S. Pearl St., or if each entity owns one.
Who owns what would determine whether the library would cover the full demolition using a mix of its public funding and donated money in its trust fund, or if the city might take on part of the cost.
Board members suggested if it’s determined the city owns one building, then the board should negotiate splitting the cost with the city.
New London Public Library Director Ann Hunt said a past estimate she received indicated it could cost $80,000 to demolish both Pearl Street buildings together, but that number is outdated.
There would be cost savings if the two buildings were demolished in conjunction with the old city-owned garage located on Wolf River Avenue.
The library could add the Pearl Street buildings to the city garage demolition bid. The bid may happen as early as March. The cost savings for demolishing the Pearl Street structures would come in the contractor’s equipment mobilization fee because the vehicles would already be in town to demolish the garage.
The 401 S. Pearl St. property (the old New London Trophy & Crafts building) was donated to the city by library and museum board member Ron Steinhorst in 2011.
The 405 S. Pearl St. building (known as the former Denny’s grocery store) was donated by Milton and Trudy Staskal in 2013.
As board members asked whether the library board or the city legally possesses each building title, Hunt said she believed the library owns one and the city owns the other. She suggested Steinhorst may have donated his property to the city while the Staskals might have donated theirs to the board.
New London City Administrator Kent Hager told the Press Star Friday, Jan. 20, he determined one of the buildings is owned by the library and the museum board. The city owns the other.
Steinhorst and the Staskals donated them with the intent they would be razed to make way for a new library. The current library would then become a building for just the museum that is presently located downstairs. Whether that will happen remains to be seen. The library board has shifted its sights to a 6-acre lot on Wolf River Avenue.
Hager said he sees a mutual agreement coming out of the February finance and personnel committee meeting, where the city and library board will discuss how to fund the demolition.
He said funding for the library and museum board comes from the city’s general fund, so the two are connected anyway.
“It’s all out of the same pocket other than this trust money,” Hager said. “They don’t want to pull more out of their trust money than they have to. And you can make the argument that, well, you own this one building and we own the other one … I wouldn’t base it on who owns what. You can use that as an argument if you want to, but in reality, we’re all in the same pot together.”
Whether a library gets built on Pearl Street or not, Hunt said 401 and 405 S. Pearl St. need to go. The buildings are in rough enough shape that they could become a liability, she said. If the new library were built elsewhere, Hunt said the land could be sold to recoup some of the demolition cost.
Nobody present at the board meeting voiced opposition to demolishing the two buildings.
“We might as well do it now. It isn’t going to be any cheaper,” board member Chris Bermann said.
“I even think the community would have a positive feeling when something’s happening with those old buildings,” board member Virginia Schlais said.
Hager and city Building Inspector Paul Hanlon have also expressed interest in razing the buildings. Both have told the Press Star it’s hypocritical for the city to fine property owners for poor upkeep when the city and library own two deteriorating buildings.
Funding the demolition will be discussed at the finance and personnel committee scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. at city hall.