Hearing Officer Tom Earhart on Wednesday ordered that the former Silver Lake Elementary School and all structures at 202 E. Sycamore St., Silver Lake, be demolished.
The salvage is to be removed, the premises cleared and inspections passed immediately, with the costs assessed to the respondent – Silver Lake Partners LLC. A lien is to be placed upon any and all property owned by the Partners for the costs.
The respondent has 10 days to appeal Earhart’s decision with the Kosciusko County Circuit Court.
The town of Silver Lake filed an order to demolish and remove the school building March 27, 2017, and a hearing was held May 16.
In his findings, Earhart said the sole owner of the property is set out in a warranty deed from Winona Arts, Restoration and Preservation Inc. to Silver Lake Partners, an Indiana limited liability company, dated Oct. 20, 2008.
The only members of the LLC are Michael Baur and his wife. At the May 16 hearing, there was some question as to who was the owner of the property, an LLC formed in 2008 or one formed in February this year.
Since 2008, the town cited the property more than 365 times for not keeping the premises mowed and for being a dilapidated building due to bricks falling off the building and a sinkhole on the property.
Earhart wrote in his findings that the Silver Lake Town Council has for years received complaints about the condition of the building, including birds or bats flying in and out of it, and that it’s next to a playground area for children and a school bus stop. Baur has tried to keep the kids out of it, but it was a “game he couldn’t win.”
Baur, on behalf of Silver Lake Partners, made representations to the town about using the building as a charter school. He applied twice, but Baur was denied on both occasions.
Earhart wrote that the Partners continues to desire a charter school in the building, but has taken no additional action toward that purpose and Baur testified that this is the reason he has not maintained or repaired the building for 10 years. Baur indicated during the hearing that the building has not been sought after for the past 10 years.
The town and the Partners agreed to hire Calvin Bolt to make an inspection of the building, which was completed Jan. 10, 2017. Photos provided during the hearing as evidence showed falling ceiling tile, extensive mold on ceiling tiles and other areas due to water damage, holes and leaks through the roof, peeling paint off the walls, broken windows, plaster falling off walls, warped wooden floors, rotting wood, mushrooms growing on carpet, brick work deterioration, 14 air conditioners hanging outside windows unmaintained and dead animals inside the building.
Earhart noted the building has not been inhabited for 10 years, and has no heating, air conditioning, water, electricity or regular care.
That Bolt’s report describes the building as an albatross suggests that the school system should have torn it down instead of selling it.
In 2004, the Warsaw School Board decided to close Claypool, Silver Lake and Atwood. In 2008, the board decided to reopen and renovate Claypool, build new Madison and Leesburg elementaries, and renovate and expand Jefferson Elementary. The site of the former Atwood school became a park and walking trail.
Bolt’s report also stated the school is unsafe.
Other than the goal of the building becoming a charter school, the Partners made no other known efforts to do anything with the school nor invested any significant capital in maintaining it, Earhart wrote.
Paul Hayden, director of the Northeast Field Office of Indiana Landmarks, testified as to his interaction with the prior owners in 2000. While the building has some historical significance, he found no one interested in it since 2000 and the building now has only a six-month expectancy until Indiana Landmarks will want nothing to do with it as it has deteriorated to the point of being unsafe.
Earhart found the cost of demolition is less than the cost of rehabilitation, and that the school building meets the statutory definition of an unsafe building.
In his findings, he wrote that the “10-year ownership of the premise and the continual and ongoing lack of significant repair and maintenance, renders the premises, including the building thereon, unsafe, substandard or a danger to the health and safety of the public.”
He wrote that the respondent has not made any significant effort to find a suitable tenant or new owner of the property despite his ownership of 10 years and despite Indiana Landmarks involvement. The respondent also does not have sufficient funds with which to maintain, repair or restore the premises.