The emergency demolition of a former school building on Bowman Avenue in Highland Grove will cost McKeesport taxpayers about $65,000, Mayor Michael Cherepko said.
The west wall of the building started to collapse on Wednesday, endangering a nearby house and forcing a temporary street closure. No injuries were reported, but residents of the house were evacuated, the mayor said.
Following an inspection of the building by City Engineer James Garvin, Cherepko said McKeesport officials awarded an emergency demolition contract to Lutterman Excavating of Greensburg.
Most of the building had been demolished by Friday night.
It's unclear what caused the wall to collapse, Cherepko said. "We certainly have had a lot of rain this year, but we don't know if it was weather-related or not," he said.
(Allegheny County photo)
Constructed in 1901, the building had not been used as a school since 1974, according to a 2014 story in the McKeesport Daily News. In the 1970s and 1980s, it housed an upholstery shop, according to old phone records.
According to Allegheny County tax records, the building was purchased in 1997 by Orelee Welch and his wife, Dianne, of Pittsburgh's Homewood neighborhood. But the taxes have long gone unpaid, and the last known address for Orelee Welch, on Everton Street in Pittsburgh, no longer exists.
An online obituary database indicates that someone named Orelee Welch Sr. --- assuming it's the same person --- died in Pittsburgh in 1999.
"That happens a lot," Cherepko said. "People pass away, their kids aren't interested, and that's how we get stuck with a lot of dilapidated properties."
Attempts by the city to track down a representative of the owner were not successful, he said, and it looked as if the building was being used most recently for storage.
The Bowman Avenue building was one of several abandoned commercial structures that McKeesport officials were hoping to demolish soon, he said, but the partial collapse last week accelerated the city's timetable.
The American Red Cross was asked to assist the residents who were temporarily evacuated, Cherepko said.
Meanwhile, crews are scheduled this week to begin repaving the section of Bowman Avenue near the collapsed building.
Under a $273,825 contract awarded this summer, El Grande Industries Inc. of Donora, Washington County, will reconstruct and repave Bowman from Lime Street almost to the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge.
Jason Togyer is the volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published October 14, 2018.