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Plans advance for historic Aaron's building demolition

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 4:43 p.m.
Plans are being finalized for the demolition of the Aaron's building located along Pittsburgh Street in Connellsville. Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier

As 2012 comes to an end, several Connellsville Redevelopment Authority projects have been completed, with one major goal on the horizon.

During the authority's December meeting, Glenn Wolfe of Widmer Engineering said he intends to send a written request to the state Department of Environmental Protection before preparing bid specifications for the demolition of the historic Aaron's building on Pittsburgh Street.

Wolfe told authority members that the building, a former furniture store, was in too poor condition to send someone to inspect it.

He also has been reviewing asbestos studies that have been completed on the building.

Following DEP recommendations, Wolfe can prepare bid specifications and the authority will solicit bids, executive director Michael Edwards said.

About $73,000 in 2012 state Community Development Block Grant funding has been set aside for the demolition project, Edwards said.

“We expect that by the end of the week, the Department of Community and Economic Development will have the paperwork done allowing us to access that 2012 funding,” he said on Wednesday.

Public safety is the primary issue for the building's planned demolition, Edwards said.

“There is no reuse plan for the site,” he said.

Edwards said grantees are permitted to apply up to 30 percent of CDBG funding annually to projects to eliminate blight.

Several years ago, the building at 139 N. Pittsburgh St. was deemed a safety hazard by the Connellsville Health Board because it is leaning substantially on the side that faces Pittsburgh Street.

In 2006, the building was purchased in an eBay auction for $20,000 by Mohamed Aly, owner of a New Jersey auto dealership.

Aly traveled to Connellsville and announced plans to replace the crumbling roof and create office and retail space and New York City-styled loft apartments in the building.

In 2007, Aly, also known as Mohamed Hassanain, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and was sentenced to a New Jersey prison.

The city assumed ownership of the more than 100-year-old building, which was declared a public nuisance in 2010.

The boarded up building has landed on websites featuring dilapidated or abandoned structures. Some visitors awed by the architecture of older buildings lament their likely destruction and the potential loss of a community's history.

Castle work completed

In other news, work at the East Park Castle has been completed.

Earlier this year, the redevelopment authority awarded a contract to repair masonry at the park to low bidder Arch Masonry Inc. of Pittsburgh at a cost of $73,800.12.

The structure, a stone castle-like building, stands on a cliff overlooking the park. It was constructed by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.

“It has been restored to its original condition,” Edwards said.

The Yough River Park project, a $600,000, three-year effort including new playground equipment, restroom improvements, paving and tree planting, has been finished.

Renovation funding was provided through the state CDBG program as well as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the McKenna Foundation. Western Pennsylvania Conservancy provided in-kind services, helping select trees for landscaping, Edwards said.

Plans for 2013 are on hold, Edwards said, while the government wrangles with the “fiscal cliff.”

“We are waiting to hear from the state how much we will have,” Edwards said.

A December meeting to discuss potential projects has been postponed to the second quarter of 2013, he said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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