City tearing down old strip mall

By Ed Brock

Every day that Kirit Patel comes to work he has to stare across the street at one of Jonesboro's biggest eyesores.

The old strip mall across North Main Street from Harvey's Cleaners, Patel's place of business, has been deteriorating for over a year as the city negotiated with the owner to do something about it. The walls are like Swiss cheese and covered with graffiti left by some of the people who come to hang around the old structure.

"It's ugly, they don't use it and they don't maintain it," Patel said. "It looks bad for the city."

Along with looking bad, the building poses a threat to public health, said Mayor Joy Day at the city council meeting in which the city voted to spend over $144,000 to tear the building down. Even the demolition will be a delicate process in which the work crews must dispose of asbestos and mold.

That will be the job of Environmental Planning Specialists, Inc. and project director Brenda Ames, a job they will begin on Feb. 28.

They'll begin by removing as much of that asbestos and mold as they can, along with a few other things.

"There are some things that aren't supposed to go to the regular landfill that we're going to segregate," Ames said.

That includes refrigerators, computer equipment and fluorescent bulbs. And then there's that asbestos.

"That has to be containerized and disposed of in a sanitary landfill that's licensed to accept asbestos," Ames said.

The demolition workers will also have to wear extra protective gear, including goggles, to protect them from the mold.

"We'll have showers available on site so they can get cleaned up and not drag mold and asbestos home," Ames said.

They will use "wet techniques" to keep the asbestos dust and mold near the ground so clouds of it won't affect the neighbors of the building like Patel. That will be especially important when the roof comes down.

Usually they send crews onto the roof to strip it of the asbestos-bearing tar before knocking the building down.

"But in this case (the roof) is so unsound that it's not safe to do it that way," Ames said.

Just to be sure, they will take constant air samples as well throughout the demolition, Ames said, and there will be a barrier around the work area.

Also, though some gasoline tanks that were on the property have already been removed, Ames' crews did detect a slight leak. So they will be installing some temporary test wells to make sure the leak won't affect the ground water, but Ames said she hopes that will be just a formality.

"It doesn't appear to have been a significant amount released," Ames said.

All this extra work is costing the city extra.

"If it was only demolition it would be a fraction of that cost," Ames said.

The city has been in negotiations with the owner of the building who is out of the country Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker said.

"That's why it took us a year to get to this point," Walker said.

In April 2004 the property was condemned and the city will have a lien on it, Walker added, so one way or another the city will get its money back.

"If it's not paid off by the owner we'll ask that (the property) be sold on the courthouse steps," Walker said.

The building has housed a grocery store and gas station, a computer store and even a taxi service at various points in its history.