By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Firm hired to raze historic structure
new deh city council opera house aerial pic
This aerial image shows the area of the old opera house. The areas in white indicate streets that will be closed during the demolition of the building. - photo by COURTESY GRAPHIC

In other business Wednesday night, the Great Bend City Council:
• Approved an ordinance creating the Rural Housing Incentive District for the Reserves at Trail Ridge apartment complex on Grant Street. A public hearing was opened at the Aug. 18 City Council Meeting regarding RHID but it  was adjourned until this meeting to allow time for the needed documents to be finalized. The public hearing was reopened,  adjourned and action was taken on the ordinance, which also included the project development plan.
Matt Gillam, vice president of development for Leawood-based Overland Property Group which is developing the complex, said they hope to start construction on phase one of the project within the next two months with it being ready for residents by May 2015, weather permitting. This is for the first phase only which includes 48 apartments.
There is a 30-day hold on starting from the date the ordinance is passed until work can begin.
The $7-8 million complex will be located on the west side of Grant Street across from Wal-Mart. The apartments are considered income-qualified housing.
This is phase one of a two-phase project that also includes another 48 apartments.
• Heard and update from Golden Belt Community Foundation Executive Director Christy Tustin on the Barbara Bushnell Fund grants. She presented a check for $10,000 to the city from the fund.
Started by Barbara Bushnell in 2006 as a way to give back to the community, much of the money from it has gone to Brit Spaugh Park and Veterans Memorial Park, which were dear to Bushnell. This is year four of a five-year payout from the fund.
Projects have included the improved walking trail at Vets.
As for the foundation, Tustin said it has been around since 2002 and has awarded over $2 million in grants. Serving Barton, Rush, Pawnee and Stafford counties, it has assets totally over $14 million.
• Approved abatements at: 1923 Holland St., Accumulation of Refuse, owned by Pauline Flores; 201 Chestnut St.,  Accumulation of Refuse, owned by Cecilia Obregon and Hector Manuel Rincon Lopez; 1211 Taft St., Accumulation of Refuse, owned by Ronald Poppe; 2510 8th St., Accumulation of Refuse, owned by D S & J Holding; and 1101 Morphy,  Refuse and vehicle Lazaro/Yolanda Guerra.
• Authorize the closure of Lakin Avenue from Main Street to Kansas Avenue from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 18 for the fifth-annual Charity Chili Cook Off at the request of Sunflower Diversified Services. They expect 15 competitors this year.
• Authorized Mayor Mike Allison to name three voting and three alternate delegates to the League of Kansas Municipalities conference. The LKM annual conference is being held on Oct. 11 - 13 in Wichita.
• Heard an economic Development report from Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Jan Peters. She discussed the successful Kids’ Ag Day that took place Wednesday at the Brining Farm. There were 400 students and about 40 volunteers taking part, and the event drew the attention of the Blue Stem school district that is interested in starting a similar program.
• Heard a departmental report from City Administrator Howard Partington.

The fate of the beleaguered historic old opera house building in downtown Great Bend was sealed Wednesday night as the Great Bend City Council accepted the bid for its razing.
Hired for the task was Nelson Stone of Great Bend who will do the work for $90,500. The demolition will begin Sept. 29 at the earliest and should be done by the end of November.
Also know as the Pitcock Building because it is owned by David and Barbara Pitcock of Hays, it sits at the intersection of Williams and Forest. The council also approved the closure of portions of these streets periodically during the procedure.
Stone requested that Forest Avenue from the alley between Stone Street and Williams Street to Williams Street, and Williams Street from the south side of the intersection of Williams Street and Forest Avenue to the alley one half block south be closed roughly between  8 a.m. and 6 p.m. during “active demolition,” City Inspector Lee Schneider said.
This is for safety purposes when Stone is working on the upper floors and there is a chance of debris falling. Traffic can still flow through the intersection at these times, but both lanes of the above-mentioned stretches will be shut down.
Stone has permission from the impacted business owners and they will be given 48-hour notice about when work will commence.
During the evening, traffic will be able to drive unabated. And, after Stone has reduced the structure to one floor, the closures will be unnecessary.
There will also be construction fencing set up around the site to keep people out of the area.
Schneider said the city solicited bids for the project and heard back from three contractors. The Pitcocks did not respond to a request to allow access to the building for the contractors, so an administrative search warrant was granted.
Only two of the contractors submitted proposals.
 The cost of the work will be covered by the city and charged back to the Pitcock’s taxes. The city is also looking into other legal procedures to get its money back.
It is not just a matter of tearing the building down, Schneider said. 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.
Schneider said the opera house was originally built as a free-standing structure. The buildings adjoining it built up against it, making the shared wall a party wall.
When the opera house is gone, it will be up to the neighboring building owners to maintain the wall and weather proof the exterior, he said.
The building had been condemned after portions of it collapsed last December, forcing a dance studio and a resident to relocate. In March, the Council set deadlines for either the preservation or demolition.
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. But, they have done nothing with the structure.
Dating to the 1880s, the building originally served as an opera house, according to 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.