At its March 17 meeting, the Great Bend City Council gave the owners of the old, crumbling opera house at 2103 Forest until April 21 to hire a contractor to fix the historic structure or raze it.
Time was about to expire Monday when City Inspector Lee Schneider heard from local contractor Andy Mingenback of Brentwood Builders. Mingenback had been retained by David and Barbara Pitcock to evaluate the building.
However, Mingenback was at the Council’s meeting Monday night and said he has advised the Pitcocks that the cost to stabilize the opera house may be more than they want to spend. He is also prepared to put them in touch with a demolition expert. In fact, he is waiting on estimates from two such contractors.
It is not just a matter of tearing the building down, Schneider told the Council. The adjoining building shares a wall and it may also be damaged during the work. It would need to be repaired to maintain its structural integrity.
Late last year, large chucks of brick and mortar tumbled off the back of building, rendering it unsafe to occupy. Then, in March, the Council set a time line for either the preservation or demolition.
They approved a resolution giving the Pitcocks until Monday to find a contractor and until Aug. 21 to have the work finished or building razed.
But, as long as there is “substantial” progress being made, Schneider said it could be possible to offer an extension.
First things first. Before demolition can begin, whatever contractor the Pitcocks hire must get a demolition permit through Schneider’s office and his approval will depend upon an engineer’s plans showing how the building next door will be preserved.
Mingenback said he could have a contractor lined up in a week.
If it this doesn’t come to pass, Schneider said he will initiate city efforts to tear down the building.
At the March 17 meeting, City Attorney Bob Suelter said city officials had received a report from a structural engineer who studied the building. “It verified what we already knew.”
The opera house is a dangerous structure. And Suelter said the missing bricks need to be replaced and the southwest corner needs to be shored up through the use of metal work.
The most recent collapse occurred early in the morning on Dec. 18 when part of the southwest corner crashed to the ground. Later in the day, it declared the structure unsafe to occupy, forcing the renters, Euphoria Dance Studio and an apartment tenant, to move.
The fallen bricks and debris from the building’s south second- and third-floor wall also closed the parking lot behind the building, which belongs to the nearby First United Methodist Church. A hole exposing the interior of the third and top floor has since been patched with cinder blocks.
In February, Schneider prepared the paperwork to find the building “an unsafe and dangerous structure.” Schneider said he had been in contact with the owners, but had difficult time reaching them except via text messages.
The issue stretches back nearly two years. The city sent its first complaint letter to the owners in March 2012 after receiving an engineer’s report from MKEC Engineering Consultants of Wichita based on a November 2011 inspection.
Schneider said he received the report because the owners would not respond to the MKEC’s concerns about “structural deficiencies” in the building. MKEC attempted to contact the owners via mail and phone.
A second complaint was sent on Oct. 25, 2013, after more bricks had fallen. Attempts to reach the Pitcocks were again unsuccessful, Schneider said.
On Oct. 31, 2013, the city received a letter from David Pitcock.
In the letter, Pitcock said he is considering legal action.
Dating to the 1880s, the building originally served as an opera house, said Bev Komarek of the Barton County Historical Society. Over the decades, it has also housed numerous businesses, including a furniture store, and offices.
The society has campaigned to save the building in the past.