Home demolition steps up in Berrien County

There’s a ‘demolition derby’ going on in Berrien County.

That’s where federal stimulus dollars have allowed officials to demolish vacant and abandoned homes at a much faster pace.

The Berrien County Land Bank received a $6.1 million HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Grant and is on pace to tear down 64 homes this year.

In a normal year, Berrien County demolishes 20 to 25 homes.

“We’re in a phase of about three years of massive demolitions in Berrien County, in part, in Benton Harbor,” said Land Bank Chairman Bret Witkowski.

The Land Bank has until the end of 2012 to spend the stimulus cash.

Most of the demolition will be done the old fashioned way. That was the case as heavy machinery was used today to knock down a home on Pipestone Road.

The house has been vacant for about 10 years according to neighbor Theresa Sturgeon. It’s kind of an eyesore, and my husband has taken care of the property (cut the grass).”

Sturgeon added, “It’s good to see it go because we don’t know if there’s been squatters in there before.”

A crew from Pelley Excavating in Niles performed the demolition work on Pipestone. “We’ve had quite a few houses, been staying real busy and right now, it’s a good thing,” said Pelley employee Randy Jones. “This is part of the stimulus money that’s being put to work; we’re getting quite a bit done—cleaning up a lot of areas around here.”

While the overwhelming majority of the Berrien County homes will be demolished, at least one will fall by means of “deconstruction.”

“Deconstruction, we are disassembling a house, piece by piece by hand,” said Supervisor Jerry Anderson outside of a home on Pine Street. “We’re trying to salvage everything that is recyclable or that we can reuse in another project.”

Screw by screw, board by board, a team of teens and 20 somethings today slowly and carefully took apart the home.

“So we're trying to keep the materials out of landfills,” said Witkowski. “The other part is it does produce training for those who are looking to get into construction, things of that nature. Our goal here is to empower the people who want to remain in the city, the homeowners things of that nature and clean up the blight around them so when they send, when the kids want to go play they’re not worried about what’s hiding out in the house next to them whether it’s rodents, whether it’s drug dealers or etcetera.”

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