February 20, 2014

City wins appeal over building

Future remains uncertain for former Tipton Elementary.

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — The city of Logansport's victory in a lawsuit over the remediation and demolition of an old school building still stands, a decision from the Indiana Court of Appeals states.

Sonia Long, of Elkhart, purchased the former Tipton Elementary School on the corner of Wright and 16th streets from the Logansport Community School Corporation in 1999. The state appellate court decision states the building "had no working heat or plumbing for many years and was used for storage, not human habitation." The building also had asbestos and boarded up windows, the decision states.

The decision goes on to state Long told the city she planned to rehabilitate the property, but did not do so for more than two years.

That led to the city informing Long in 2010 that the structure is unsafe in accordance with the Indiana Unsafe Building Law and Logansport ordinances. Long was ordered to remediate the asbestos and demolish the building by Aug. 31, 2010, but Long was financially unable to do so.

The city then filed a lawsuit against Long in September 2011 to force compliance with the demolition order.

Long represented herself throughout the lawsuit when it was heard in Cass Superior Court I, which ruled in favor of the city, and at the state level when Long appealed.

The decision states many of Long's arguments were waived because of their lack of cogency. She argued the state's unsafe building law is unconstitutional and that there were many other buildings in town in similar or worse conditions that weren't being pursued by the city.

The court also ruled she held little weight in bringing the suit forward because she never appealed or sought judicial review of the city's notice to demolish the building.

In an interview, Long reiterated the arguments she made in the suit, citing the many other blighted properties in town.

"Nobody went after them when they were going after me," Long said, adding there weren't any citations on the building she was aware of when she bought it.

Logansport Mayor Ted Franklin, who inherited the lawsuit after taking office in 2012, expressed his disagreement to that by pointing to the way his administration has been addressing blight in the city. He said 30 properties have been demolished since he took office and praised the work of the city code enforcement officer and building commissioner, who regularly bring forward code violations at board of public works and safety meetings.

Franklin also mentioned the ordinance recently passed by Logansport City Council that sets stricter standards for properties with boarded-up windows and the city's intention to apply for demolition dollars through the state.

Long said she doesn't know what will happen next with the building.

"I don't have the finances to take the asbestos out and I certainly don't have the finances to tear the building down," she said.

In light of that, Franklin said he isn't sure what will happen next with the building either. He added the structure, although blighted and in need of asbestos remediation, appears to be salvageable and is hopeful some kind of arrangement can be made.

"I'm open to finding a use for it," Franklin said.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or Follow him: @PharosMAK