Who should pay?

Councilman argues building owner, not the city should clean up fire debris

eeds are growing in the debris from “The Villager” Apartments fire which occurred May 5 of this year.

eeds are growing in the debris from “The Villager” Apartments fire which occurred May 5 of this year.

By MIKE DONAHEY

TIMES-REPUBLICAN

At least one Marshalltown City Council member is concerned about clean-up efforts of the former Village Apartments.

“It (clean-up) is not moving fast enough for me,” said

At-Large Councilor Leon Lamer. “I wanted it cleaned up before …”

Lamer said he and some other council members have discussed moving the property in the 100 block of North Center Street into the city’s “Dilapidated and Dangerous” program so the debris can be removed at city expense.

However, he does not agree with that proposal.

“I do not think taxpayers should pay for “The Villager” clean-up,” he said. “She (owner Joann Struebing of Marshalltown) got the insurance money and we are going to get stuck with the clean up? I am not happy with that … I think something should have been done sooner.”

Marshalltown established the “D&D” program in 2016, as a way of eliminating dangerous and dilapidated residential and commercial structures within city limits.

Utilities to five properties were disconnected, houses demolished, debris removed and grass seed planted on site.

A desired outcome is the site’s owner constructing a new building or selling it to a developer for residential or commercial development.

On May 5, a late-evening fire of undetermined origin destroyed the three-story apartment complex.

All 14 residents escaped unharmed.

No firefighters or law enforcement personnel were hurt fighting the blaze.

Standing walls were demolished several days later for safety.

Three months later, what remains is a pile of bricks, scorched lumber and broken pipes behind a chain-link fence. Weeds are growing up from the rubble.

“The owner is continuing to get bids,” said City Administrator Jessica Kinser in an email to the Times-Republican late last week. “We plan to meet with her when she has a few to chose from.”

A call to Struebing requesting comment was not returned by press time.

It was the second time in four years fire displaced Villager residents.

In April of 2013, a fire which stared on the third floor and was deemed accidental, caused an estimated $75,000 in damage.

The American Red Cross helped those residents find hotel rooms as it did residents from the May 5 fire.

At one time the building — constructed in the 1880s — stood out because of its historical significance, according to local historian Jay Carollo.

“The building had historic significance because it was an early hospital,” he said. “It was once know as Dr. Wilson’s Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Infirmary. Years before the first Marshalltown hospital — Evangelical Deaconess — opened in 1914.”

Carollo cited a book, “Marshalltown – Queen City of the West,” as reporting on Wilson’s Infirmary.

That material was re-printed in Marshalltown’s “The Statesman” newspaper in 1888.

The 10,146 square-foot structure had a taxable value of $69,920, according to an online report from the Marshall County Assessor’s Office.

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com