Former First Merit Plaza (copy)

The former First Merit Bank building

Permits to remove asbestos-ridden material from the former First Merit Bank building apparently have yet to be filed with Department of Environmental Protection, placing a hold on demolition plans.

According to Tom Decker, community relations coordinator of the DEP office in Meadville, there is no record of an Asbestos Abatement and Demolition/Renovation Notification Form for the building's address as of May 7.

Building owner Tom Wilson, a developer from Pittsburgh, bought the North Mill Street building two years ago, saying he would demolish it, and a portion of the property would be used to create a free, two-hour parking lot for the public. The remainder would be set aside for nearby businesses.

Wilson last appeared before New Castle City Council and Mayor Chris Frye in January to give them an update on the demolition progress.

Wilson noted at the time that there had been progress inside the building, although it could not be seen from the outside, such as draining the heating system.

Councilman Tim Fulkerson told Wilson during that meeting that he had contacted the DEP in Meadville to see if permits were submitted for asbestos removal or demolition, but said neither had been submitted.

During that meeting, Wilson said he would check to determine who handles the applications, but the building's asbestos was staged at the entrance of the building.

Attempts to contact Wilson this week were unsuccessful.

Permits are needed to remove the asbestos from the building and dispose of it in a permissible location.

Councilwoman MaryAnne Gavrile asked during the January meeting if he had a time frame for the building to come down, but Wilson explained it was difficult to give a time frame.

“As opposed to doing an implosion or a wrecking ball tear down, I want to do a lighter tear-down where we gut each floor and then disassemble the building from the inside, which will save the noise and the dust in the city until the very end when the last of the frame comes down,” said Wilson.

This demolition plan, Wilson explained, would keep the building up longer.

Wilson purchased the building for $50,000 in late 2017.

Although over $400,000 was due in back taxes, Wilson and council came to a settlement in September 2017 to pay $100,000 in taxes. The New Castle Area School District and Lawrence County commissioners also agreed to the settlement. The school district received 50 percent, the city received 33 percent and the county received 16.7 percent of the $100,000.

At the time, Wilson estimated the demolition would take place in late October 2017 and would cost less than $100,000.

Wilson told the council members a similar timeline during an August 2019 meeting where he estimated demolition to begin by Oct. 1, 2019.

"People want to know is this building coming down, because we promised them it would be down in early 2019," Fulkerson said during that meeting. "It's still here. Are we going to see it down by the end of 2019?"

"There's quite a bit of anxiousness in the community," former Councilman Paul Stefano added. "They keep expecting something to occur."

mbasileo@ncnewsonline.com

Reporter

Maria Basileo is a news reporter. She covers Laurel and Shenango school boards and municipal government.

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