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Gary continues to knock down abandoned homes

City Gary heavy equipment operator Charles Jolley uses an excavator bring down an abandoned home 17th HarrisMonday Nov. 19 2012.

City of Gary heavy equipment operator Charles Jolley uses an excavator to bring down an abandoned home at 17th and Harrison Monday Nov. 19, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 27, 2012 6:06AM



GARY — The brick bungalow at 1721 Harrison St. didn’t put up much of a fight last week as the city’s rusty yellow excavator aimed its shovel at the front porch. It crumpled quickly into a mass of rubble.

Charles Jolley, of the city’s General Services Department, manned the excavator expertly while Davonte Piccolin aimed a water hose at the debris to keep the dust down. Within about 15 minutes, the house came down. Jolley’s excavator then turned its attention to a dump truck, hoisting and dropping the house’s remains into it.

The city has demolition down to a science these days, but the numbers of vacant dilapidated structures lining Gary’s neighborhoods are still daunting. This house at 1721 Harrison St. was the 123rd structure demolished this year.

“I call it a good start,” says Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson who estimated there are anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 vacant, crumbling structures in the city.

She’s hoping President Obama will exert some of his post-election political capital into expanding federal Community Development Block grant funding which the city depends on for demolition. She’s also watching new legislation that would provide more money to urban rustbelt cities for demolition efforts.

The city has received some help this year from the Indiana Department of Correction in Westville which has demolished 20 structures for the city. It also receives free laborers, like Piccolin, 19, from the Lake County’s Kimbrough Work Program and the Lake County Sheriff’s work release program.

Freeman-Wilson said the demolition of abandoned homes makes a neighborhood safer and gives a lift to residents’ morale.

“We are determined to remove blight in the community. First impressions are lasting,” she said. “When you see multiple abandoned houses, it’s a safety issue in terms of allowing people who engage in drugs or illegal activity somewhere to go.”

As the excavator loaded the dump truck, former Gary cop Tom Branson pulled up and looked at the debris.

He’s now the project director of the Lake County Sheriff’s Violence Intervention Program.

“This feeds right into our program,” he said of the demolition. “It cuts down on places for gangs to frequent and put their graffiti on.”

Neighbor Gee Jones said the demolished home sat empty for 15 years. “There’s a lot of people sleeping in these empty buildings so I’m glad it’s gone. You never know who might jump out.”

The city’s designated demolition crew and equipment consists of three workers and the excavator, a dump truck and payloader. It cost between $3,500 and $4,000 for the city to knock down the Harrison Street home, said Cedric Kuykendall, demolition coordinator for the Redevelopment Department. The cost varies, depending on the structure.

The city also solicits bids from outside contractors, but the cost escalates to about $7,000 per home, Kuykendall said.

The city is following a new strategy in the use of its demolition money.

“The end game is to provide contiguous parcels for development,” Freeman-Wilson said. “It creates an opportunity for property values to go up.”



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