Building owner, city discuss fate of damaged structure

The back of the Kirkwood Building in Negaunee is shown after the roof collapsed on May 16. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

NEGAUNEE — What should happen to the Kirkwood Building? Building owner Eric Miljour is hoping to rehabilitate at least a portion of the three-story structure after it partially collapsed on May 16.

City officials, however, made it clear during a Negaunee City Council meeting Thursday that they are leaning toward demolition, possibly before the city’s annual Pioneer Days celebration.

Several city officials referenced a letter from U.P. Engineers and Architects that says the building “is in imminent danger of collapse.”

“In his letter, (the engineer) says the lack of the back half of the roof structure and damage to the top floor joint system which ties the side walls together has weakened the top portion of the building to the point that additional collapses are going to happen,” Councilman Bill Anderson said.

Miljour, who distributed bound reports to council members during public comment, said the engineering report he commissioned on the building told an entirely different story.

“GEI (Consultants), they would be more than willing to come talk. They were kind of shocked by the letter from UPEA because, based on just viewing it, they didn’t see how an imminent collapse (could happen),” Miljour said.

Miljour said in addition to engineers, he has been working with general contractors as well as other experts in his efforts to rehabilitate the structure.

“I have been in touch with the city a few times, the county a few times. My intention here was to inform you that I intend to rehabilitate the building,” Miljour told the council. “My other intention was to try to alleviate the safety concerns that you all have.”

City Attorney Ray O’Dea told Miljour the city would be happy to have an outcome other than demolition, which could cost upwards of $300,000.

“We would be happy to have you alleviate the public safety problem that’s out there,” O’Dea said, “but this building continues to go down. And it says here (in the report provided by Miljour) that it is GEI’s recommendation that action be taken at the site relatively soon to address current structural and stability concerns. So, you are going to have some time, but it is going to be very short now.”

City Manager Nate Heffron said the city has commissioned a lead and asbestos study on the Kirkwood Building as well as an engineering study through U.P. Engineers and Architects.

“Our recommendation is to move forward with the demolition of the building,” Heffron told the council. “Our intentions are once we have more information to give you, we will have a special meeting to determine what course of action we will take.”

Negaunee Planning and Zoning Administrator David Nelson said he will forward the results of the lead and asbestos survey to the building owner, the engineer and demolition contractors.

“The engineering firm will be preparing an RFP (request for proposals) for demolition of the building and we will be going out for bids on the building demolition,” Nelson said. “We will be setting it up to score points to where if you can get it down in a safe manner before Pioneer Days, you will get extra points.”

Until the building is made safe, the council unanimously voted to instruct the city manager to close the portion of Iron Street in front of the structure to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Anderson, who made the motion to close off a portion of the street and sidewalk, said public safety was his overarching concern after recent drone photos revealed that the interior of the building had collapsed even further.

“I cannot even explain to you what’s making the building stand up on the back half,” Anderson said. “I don’t feel comfortable allowing people to drive in front of the building, go in front of the building … I just think it’s our responsibility to do something about it.”

Heffron agreed that the city should exercise an abundance of caution.

“We may have some disruption from the business owners, the commerce side,” Heffron said, “but it all comes down to safety.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.