Larned council votes to raze the opera house

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LARNED – One of the first brick buildings erected on Broadway Street in Larned will soon collapse.

The Larned City Council on Monday invoked state law allowing the city to demolish the Opera House, located at 402-410 Broadway, after meeting criteria for “imminent danger” to public safety. Discussion at the well-attended meeting included a review of the engineer’s report requested by staff to determine the condition of the building after the December 15 storm highlighted concerns about the stability of downtown structures.

Following the review, the council heard from the building’s tenants or their representatives and discussed demolition options and state laws governing the city’s procedural action regarding unsafe structures.

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Following the December 15, 2021 derecho, Larned City Manager Brad Eilts contacted Engineering Consultants, PA in Hutchinson to evaluate the structure. EC consultant Chase Brecheisen and Larned building inspector Will Tice visited, noting that the continuous upper floor of the building had deteriorated significantly and parts of the roof had collapsed. Additionally, the outer north wall was observed to separate from the roof and pose a risk of collapse to the occupied one-story building adjacent to 412 Broadway. To the south, the exterior wall had also deteriorated, cracked, was no longer plumb and threatened to collapse. Because the addresses at 402-410 Broadway were essentially one structure and the first floor walls were interdependent, the owners or their representatives have been advised that the demolition of one part may impact the structural integrity of others.

Brecheisen recommended that the occupants of the law office at 412 Broadway leave their building in case the wall begins to crumble. Tice and city staff erected sidewalk barricades and posted “no trespassing” notices, with barriers on doors and windows to prevent public entry.

Review of report, discussion

At the meeting, EC owner Brent Engelland met with the board via Zoom to discuss the report and answer questions. He explained that although debris restricting access prevented a full assessment, he was of the opinion that sufficient deterioration had been observed to warrant razing the entire structure.

“I went through all the information that Chase gathered on the spot for me,” he said. “The concern is primarily the condition of the entire structure of the Opera House. When we looked at the condition of the north wall, it became apparent that there were quite significant separation cracks. We really recommend that the building to the north is not occupied until the issue is resolved The holes in the roof are a concern as the Opera House is unlike most buildings in the city center in that it has no party walls between each section. This means that the sections all act together more than other buildings in the city center.

“On the southeast corner, the problem is that the two cracks have enough separation that they effectively render the corner unattached to the building.”

Engelland noted that there were several areas that appeared to be unsafe and so the report did not include an investigation of the building’s basements.

Mayor William Nusser then invited the tenants or their representatives to address the council.

Heather Helvie, owner of 412 Broadway, asked that the city move “with a tremendous sense of urgency” to resolve the issue and allow her to return to her building and workplace.

Call to save a game

Alan Martin, contract owner of the central section of the building at 406 Broadway, said his situation was different because he had taken steps to improve his building.

“I should definitely be given the opportunity to repair my building after the sections to the north and south of me are demolished,” he said. “The Opera House has been built and somewhere in there has been divided into several buildings with separate addresses. You must collect taxes at each address. I am the only registered owner who is current on payment of taxes. J ‘ve put a lot of my own money into restoring this building; I’ve put about 15 jacks under the floor. Structurally, there’s nothing wrong.

“I would just ask that my building, which is solid, be left as part of the Larned story. I graduated from Larned in 1993; I appreciate Larned’s story and I appreciate the forward movement that Larned has. I see a lot of good things happening on the way to Larned and I wish I could be a part of it in the future.

“But that being said, I want to do what’s best for the town of Larned. If I lose my investment, so be it, but I want to do what’s best for the community.

Call to tear down

Mark Cowell, co-owner of 412 Broadway, said it was a mistake to consider addresses at 402-410 Broadway as separate buildings. “It was a building that the city cut into first-floor condominiums for different businesses. There is only one building, it has four corners, and one of the corners, as the engineer explained, broke off from the building,” he said.

“There’s only one roof, and it’s collapsing.”

Cowell said he realized the situation was rare, unusual and emotional to treat a block as part of the community’s history, but there was only one plan to action.

“We’re not really here tonight deciding what to do because there’s only one option forward at this point,” he said. “The city has overwhelming evidence that this building is in imminent danger of collapse. It is an undisputed fact.

“Everyone who has inspected this building says it is in imminent danger of collapse,” he continued. “Beyond that, the city has already taken measures under the authority of the imminent danger. The city has taken steps to remove people from their lawful occupation. The city is now responsible. And every day the building is left standing when the city doesn’t tear them down, the city’s guilt increases.

“I’m sorry, it’s too bad. But there is an imminent danger of collapse, and the buildings must be demolished now.

Move to demolish

A community survey structured by Mayor Nusser indicated that the building should be demolished at the owners expense without any compensation. Responses from the 100 participating residents indicated that 20.83% were in favor of a building to be repaired at the owners’ expense, and 39.58% in favor of a building being razed at the owner’s expense; 18.75% were in favor of the building being repaired at the city’s expense, while 20.83% were in favor of the building being demolished at the city’s expense. Nearly three-quarters of respondents are not in favor of compensating owners, while 26.53% are in favor of compensating owners.

The council then discussed the details of the procedure to prepare for the demolition of the Opera House, as well as the Carson Hotel building at 400 Broadway to the south. In a roll-call vote, council unanimously agreed to seek demolition offers, with a special meeting to be called if more than one offer is received, and plans to begin demolition immediately once an offer is approved.

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