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Ford City officials want to tear down Eljer Plumbingware factory eyesore

| Saturday, June 6, 2009

FORD CITY -- A rundown, vacant factory building stands smack in the middle of what was once Ford City's industrial row, but if town officials have their way it won't be standing for long.

The former PPG and later Eljer Plumbingware factory space known as Building 228, located between the Allegheny River and the 1100 block of Third Avenue across from the borough maintenance garage, has been an eyesore on the town's riverfront landscape for decades, those officials said.

They want to demolish the 570-foot-long by 100-foot-deep, three-story-high building that sits 80 feet from the banks of the river and reclaim the view for the town's residents.

The borough acquired the factory property several years ago from Eljer for $1.

There had been some thought about keeping the building intact, either for use by another industrial tenant or to house a retail complex similar to Pittsburgh's Station Square. In either case, the building would require extensive renovation, officials decided, concluding it woud be best to raze it and make the space available for residential and commercial development.

"They put $5-to$7 million into a former factory building at the other end of town," said Ford City council president John Lux. "That's been sitting down there empty for years now. Why do the same thing up here• It would cost millions to renovate it."

"Besides. I think the people in town would rather have access to the river," he said. "Let's change the landscape of Ford City. Let's see the river from town. Let's get it torn down."

Lux would like to see condos and possibly a marina go up in the cleaned-up space.

"By tearing down the building, we can get more new residential housing mixed in with new businesses, and with that maybe increase the tax base and lower the property taxes," Lux said.

Holding up the process is the high price tag to demolish the structure.

The borough received 13 bids on razing the structure. The lowest responsible bid came from C.J. Contracting for $150,000. But the borough doesn't have the money and hasn't identified any state or federal grant money to do the project.

The majority of the cost would be to build a wall to separate the torn-down area from an adjoining factory space that has other ownership, Lux said.

The town has decided to do the job on it's own. A community campaign fund drive has been started to raise the needed money.

Councilman Tom Shaffer is leading the effort. In addition to contributing the first $250 to the campaign, Shaffer is working to form a committee.

For now, donations can be sent to Ford City Borough, attention Building 228 Fund, Box 112, Ford City, Pa, 16226, or delivered in person to the borough office.

"We're promoting the idea, getting people involved and looking for donations," Shaffer said. "Hopefully this can get kicked off around Heritage Days (the first week of July)."

Additional Information:

Mayor Mantini recalls the past

Ford City mayor Marc Mantini can't help but remember, with a little help from some of the old glassworkers living in town, what used to go on at PPG Building 228 and at the other former PPG factory properties.

'It's about the generations that helped build the glass in Ford City that helped build America,' Mantini said.

Mantini recalled the casting hall and the furnaces within the walls of the old factory building where the sand, soda, ash and lime made the glass at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Glassmaking was a very expensive process for hundreds of years prior to the development of John Ford's plant in Ford City, according to Mantini.

'Here the pot furnaces on the second level made inexpensive commercial glass,' Mantini said. 'They were circular, 6 to 8 feet wide and 4 feet high. They were the first-generation, mass production furnaces and 50 to 60 men manned those furnaces.'

Later a continuous tank furnace was developed and a major production of glass was moved to the southern end of town. That furnace was about 15 feet by 15 feet and eight feet high and it cooked glass 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Mantini said.

Mantini agrees that demolishing Building 228 is the best thing to do for the borough.

'You have to tear it down. Those buildings are antiquated,' Mantini said. 'Remember the past, but move on.'

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