MANSFIELD -- The Richland County Land Bank on Wednesday officially accepted ownership of a former Westinghouse property, likely clearing the way for the demolition of the 30-year eyesore.
It appears the quasi-public entity is also preparing to accept two other former Westinghouse properties nearby, including the 13-acre "concrete jungle" parcel nearby, owned by Mansfield Business Park, LLC, of Richfield, Ohio; and a vacant building, owned by Electrolux, based in North Carolina.
Acquisition of the properties is seen as key to redevelopment of the blighted area on the east side of downtown Mansfield that has sat idle and decaying since Westinghouse closed its local operations in 1990.
The moves come as local officials acknowledge the influx of federal and state money for demolition and environmental remediation of such former industrial sites, which have plagued a generation of elected leaders.
Richland County Treasurer Bart Hamilton, chair of the Land Bank board, said recently the state's recently approved budget set aside $500 million for demolition and brownfield remediation.
Each of the state's 88 counties is guaranteed $1.5 million from that fund, leaving $368 million "up for grabs" for projects. Hamilton spoke to Mansfield City on Sept. 21 and suggested city leaders think of potential projects.
"I want to get as big a share as we can for Mansfield and Richland County," Hamilton said then. "If you want to tear down big stuff, now is the time. That's a lot of money that will become available."
The Ohio Department of Development has not yet issued guidelines for usage of the funds, though a 25 percent local match of the state dollars will be required.
The funds -- and ideas for solutions -- are gamechangers for today's leaders.
"Times have changed," said Richland County Commissioner Tony Vero, a Land Bank member who has helped lead the months-long effort to acquire the properties. "I think you have some players who are willing to step up and take a little bit of risk for something the community obviously wants done.
"We will leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding the funding to get that building down," he said.
The Land Bank in August agreed in August to accept the former "A" building at 200 Fifth St.., pending the completion of an environmental study.
The nine-member Land Bank board voted unanimously to approve an "environmental assessment agreement" with Pamela Coffman, trustee of the Coffman Revocable Living Trust, which owns the building that occupies almost the entire 0.4-acre parcel.
The building is a five-story, decaying and heavily vandalized structure that has dominated the skyline in the area.
The contract with the Coffman family allowed the Land Bank, formed in 2013, to conduct two phases of environmental testing at the site, including soil borings, to determine what, if any, contamination exists that may need to be remediated.
In the agreement with the property owner, the The Land Bank agreed to hire Mannik Smith Group from Maumee to conduct environmental testing on the site.
That work is complete and Vero said it appears the building is in bad shape and should likely be demolished, rather than spend millions on attempted rehabilitation.
"The building is in bad shape. There are high arsenic levels and there are definite (chemical) compounds present, which means you would need highly expensive vapor intrusion," he said.
Vapor intrusion mitigation systems are installed to reduce health risks in buildings where chemical vapors from contaminated soil and groundwater may be inhaled by indoor occupants. They also may be installed as a precaution where vapor intrusion might occur in the future.
According to the U.S. EPA, vapor intrusion mitigation is done to prevent vapor migration into buildings as long as vapor intrusion poses a health risk to occupants. This process can take years, or even decades, until cleanup of soil and groundwater is complete, according to the federal agency.
It's also not known if there are underground tanks remaining beneath the 'A' building, which may have been placed before the building was constructed in 1919. Vero said officials can't determine that until the building is demolished and thick concrete removed, which would allow ground-penetrating radar to locate such tanks.
He said expected demolition and remediation costs would be between $1 and $1.5 million. Any attempts to rehabilitate the current building would cost millions more, Vero said.
"I think $5 or $6 million sounds appropriate and maybe even higher ... if it can even be rehabilitated because of the vapor intrusion," he said. "As I was told (by Mannik Smith), anything is possible if you have unlimited funds."
The other two former Westinghouse properties could be obtained later this month, though it would require a special meeting of the Land Bank board if current owners complete expected paperwork to donate those parcels.
The board on Wednesday approved an updated Phase 1 environmental study of the concrete parcel, which will also be done by Mannik Smith.