From left, city recorder Randy Sanders and mayor Robbie Skinner at Monday's SYCC Board meeting.

City finally owns the property adjacent to SYCC; officials announce next step in construction of new gym

BUCKHANNON – After a long, winding road filled with a few bumps, the City of Buckhannon officially possesses the deed for the property located at 65 East Main Street, the former headquarters for the Knights of Pythias, a local fraternal organization.

The structure is located adjacent to the Stockert Youth & Community Center and close to Buckhannon City Hall, and the SYCC Board first voted to pursue purchasing the building and plot of land in fall of 2019, according to a previous story, but negotiations stalled several times when the municipality and the Knights of Pythias were unable to agree on a buying price.

Fast forward a year-and-a-half later to May 21, 2021, when the city and the Knights closed on the deal in city hall, and May 28, 2021, when city officials received the official deed. At the SYCC Board’s Monday, June 7 meeting, the Board and city officials announced they now plan to raze the building to construct a new multi-purpose auditorium/gymnasium facility beside the existing center.

Mayor Robbie Skinner updated the SYCC Board at that monthly meeting.

“We did have a closing here to two Fridays ago (May 21) in the morning. Tom (O’Neill, attorney for the City of Buckhannon) was here, their attorney was here, some of the Knights were here, myself, Amby (Amberle Jenkins, city finance and administrative director) and Randy (Sanders, city recorder) were here,” Skinner said. “We had a very quick and easy closing, and the keys were turned over, so we own the property.”

“They have gotten everything out of the house that they want,” the mayor added. “I have a key, and I believe Tom or Amby kept a key – there could be more, we’re not really sure – but at this point it doesn’t really matter because we’re not keeping the structure.”

Skinner said the city plans on having a ceremony when the building comes down.

“We will have a nice little ceremony whenever it’s time to tear it down,” Skinner said. “I would like to invite former mayor [David] McCauley since he was instrumental in starting this ball rolling, and we’ll have a nice ceremonial knockdown,” Skinner said. “The Fire Department has mentioned they would like to use it for some training before we tear it down, so I’ve tentatively agreed to [Buckhannon Fire Chief] J.B. (Kimble) they could do that. We just need to pick a time for them to do that before we actually tear it down.”

Skinner elaborated on that point, explaining that municipal fire departments are not permitted to burn down abandoned or dilapidated structures in city limits in the State of West Virginia.

“They will not burn it down,” he said. “Unfortunately, we can’t do that. Cities are not permitted to do that, and in cities like this city, it wouldn’t be as big of an issue, but in other cities like Huntington, Charleston or Clarksburg that tear down hundreds of homes or dilapidated structures over the course of the year, it would be really beneficial to them because they would save a lot of money in demolition costs. We’re fortunate that we don’t have a lot of dilapidated structures here, but we cannot burn it down.”

The property at 65 E. Main Street. / My Buckhannon file photo

The Buckhannon Fire Department has utilized other dilapidated structures such as an old home on Cleveland Avenue and the old West Virginia Wesleyan College Camden dormitories in the past prior to those structures being knocked down. Finance and Administrative Director Amberle Jenkins said the Upshur County Historical Society had a few leftover items in the building they would like to retrieve before the building is razed.

“The Historical Society looked in there because they wanted to see some things, [which] they might take pictures of or keep,” Jenkins said. “There are some old ledgers in there they want to keep. I’m going to get some totes to get them out of there because there was one from like 1890. There’s also some old doors and a huge wooden bench that looked like it came from a church that needs to come out.”

Jenkins also said the building has been tested, but they are pretty positive it contains asbestos, so that will need to be removed before there is any demolition.

“We’re sure it has some asbestos,” she said. “We already had it tested, and we’re just waiting for this test results to come back. There’s a lot of strategic things that need to happen. [We need to] get some of that stuff out of there that can be salvaged, and then we need to have the asbestos removed because they don’t want to do any training in there until it’s out. Then, we have to have it torn down within 10 days after it’s removed, so there has to be timing there, but we’re trying to get all the little things worked out.”

Skinner said none of the money that has been raised for the new building has gone towards purchasing the property, and none of the raised funds will go towards tearing anything down either.

“Just for the Board’s knowledge, both the purchase of the property and the demolition of the property will be covered by the city,” Skinner said. “The people that have given money to this did not give money to tear something down; they gave money to put something up. The funds that are in this will not be used at all until we start to put something up. I think that’s the most appropriate way to do it.”

The property was purchased in March 2020 for a total of $145,000 after lengthy negotiations with the Knights of Pythias.

The board also voted to cancel their July meeting, so they will not reconvene until August. Board member Pam Martin asked if the building would come down before August, and Jenkins said possibly in August, but not before.

During Buckhannon City Council’s Thursday, June 3 meeting the week prior, council members unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the property purchase of 65 E. Main via a roll call vote. The deed for the structure and plot on which it sits was made between trustees of the Buckhannon Lodge No. 54 Knights of Pythias, Warren DeBarr and Marvin Wyatt, and the City of Buckhannon for $145,000. The property is located in Corporation District Map 4, Parcel 362, according to the deed in council’s packet.

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