Groups work together to remove Niles eyesore

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It took about a year to get the Trumbull County Council of Governments up and running, but the start of demolition at the former Garfield Elementary on Third Street this week shows the council’s purpose, its chairman says.

“Its a fantastic project,” said Howland Township Trustee Dr. James LaPolla, council chairman. “That old school had no purpose other than as an eyesore.”

The property owner, the nonprofit Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, had asbestos removed, then turned over the 15,000-square-foot building built in 1920 to Niles, which is one of the 22 county communities participating in the council.

Because the Trumbull County Engineer’s office is also a member of the council, it was allowed to carry out the demolition using its equipment and workforce and bill Niles for labor, fuel and disposal charges, said Jack Simon, director of governmental affairs for Engineer Randy Smith.

The estimated cost Niles will pay is about $15,000, even though it is believed a demolition company would have charged about $400,000.

The Garfield project is the first one the COG has carried out since it was formed a year ago.

A council enables member government bodies to share services at no cost, LaPolla said. “For instance, tax money in Girard can’t be spent in Howland,” he explained. But a council of governments melds a group of government bodies into one entity.

Albert Cantola, who is Niles councilman for the Fourth Ward, which includes the former school, says he was opposed to using city tax money to demolish the former school a year ago because Niles was still in fiscal emergency.

But the city is no longer in fiscal emergency, and city council set aside $30,000 in the 2019 budget for blight removal.

“You’re not going to get a better deal than what we got,” Cantola said, adding the building caught on fire three times in recent years because of people living inside, making it a safety risk.

“This was bad,” Cantola said as he watched demolition proceed Wednesday morning. “The inside of it was terrible. You couldn’t keep people out.” The demolition is expected to take a couple more weeks.

After the demolition, Niles will transfer the property back to TNP, which will market it for sale, said Shawn Carvin, Trumbull County Land Bank program director.

Cantola said the property is going to be divided into four lots, and the adjacent land owners will be given the opportunity to buy the parcel to expand their property.

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