SHERIDAN — Local citizens are rallying to oppose the demolition of a historic building at 429 W. Alger St.
The building is owned by the county and sits adjacent to the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library. County commissioners voted to demolish the building last year after the library determined it would not be part of future plans and the upkeep costs would be too high to maintain. Though no alternative use for the plot of land has been determined, rough proposals to use it as a parking lot or for future additions to the library have been explored.
But Bonnie Gregory, a member of the Downtown Sheridan Association, said losing the building would be a blow to the city.
“It’s about a sense of place. We have this unique downtown and this great town that isn’t like every other subdivision in America; that’s why we win all of these awards,” Gregory said. “I just think it’s very short-sighted of [the county] to tear the building down. “
Steve Kuzara, who is on the Downtown Sheridan Association board, said the decision over what to do with the building should not be framed in terms of money.
“Historic buildings cost more money than regular buildings on all levels,” Kuzara said. “The cost-benefit of a historic building has nothing to do with the cost to maintain it, to get it manageable or anything like that. The benefit has to do with what it does for the community.”
Luke Knudson, who owns Old General Store Antiques, said the building was constructed by Evan C. Williams, who owned a brick company that supplied the construction of several of the buildings throughout Sheridan, in 1900.
“They built pretty much all of the brick buildings around here out of that brick and it’s arguably the first residence in Sheridan to be built out of that brick,” Knudson said.
Knudson added that, based on that information, the house could qualify for the National Register of Historic places; however that would require the houses owner — the county — to give consent.
County Commission Chairman Mike Nickel said the county began exploring possible uses for the building about a year and a half ago in response to a leak in the library roof.
“The library is on an extremely slim, tight budget; we’ve cut them for the last few years. The roof was leaking, and it was going to be well over $100,000 to repair the roof and we didn’t have it in the budget,” Nickel said. “We were looking for a revenue source, and the first thing that popped up was the [Alger Street building]. We thought maybe we could sell the building and use it to repair the roof.”
Nickel said, after considering the matter further, the county decided not to sell the house because it sits on a larger piece of county-owned property, and the commissioners and the library boards did not want there to be a “hole” in the middle of that property that they could not control. He added that there were electrical and communications lines running underneath the property, which would have further complicated selling the house.
The county explored leasing the house, but Nickel said it could not find a tenant willing to take on the building’s maintenance costs, which he said were estimated at between $25,000 and $30,000.
Kuzara, however, said it was unrealistic to expect someone to invest money into the building unless they could buy it or rent it on an extended lease.
“It was offered to the DSA to do something with, and they only offered a 20-year lease from what I understand,” Kuzara said. “Anybody would be a fool to take less than a 50 or 100-year lease if they’re going to fix the property up… It would be like me saying ‘If you fix up my car I’ll let you drive it for a week.’”
Kuzara added that if the county was willing to sell the building, or offer a longer lease, he believes the county could find a buyer or group willing to restore and maintain it.
Nickel said the county estimates it will cost $12,000 to demolish the building. However, before demolition can take place, the building needs to be inspected for asbestos. If asbestos is discovered, and depending on how much is present in the building, Nickel said the cost for demolition could increase significantly.
The demolition is scheduled for May 15, but Nickel said the county has not signed a contract to have the building torn down yet.
“If somebody brings something before us, it will be looked at,” Nickel said. “We don’t have a legitimate alternative offer right now. So at this point in time, we’re moving forward on the demolition.”
Gregory said she, Kuzara and Knudson will host a community meeting to discuss saving the building Sunday at 2 p.m. at Luminous Brewhouse.