MOUNT VERNON — In what is welcome news for many area residents, developer Joel Mazza confirmed Monday night that he will not tear down all of the former middle school at 301 N. Mulberry St.
“We will not tear down the front of the building facing Mulberry Street,” he told Mount Vernon City Council members via Zoom. “We want to reuse it. We've had an outcry from people once it hit the papers that we were going to tear it down. We are going to repurpose the 1939 portion.”
The building is a three-story structure in the shape of an H with the vertical sections running north/south, parallel to Mulberry Street. The 1939 section is the eastern vertical facing Mulberry Street.
According to the engineer's report, Mazza also plans to keep the horizontal leg of the H and the one-story gymnasium. The western vertical, built in 1924, and its western “L” extension, will be demolished.
He made the decision after an engineer's evaluation found the 1939 portion to be structurally sound.
The report noted that much of the interior finishes, mechanical, and electrical systems are missing or damaged, but the main structural elements are stable. Minor areas that need repair include repointing areas of exterior brick and the stairs in front and along the north side. The report states “much of the damage is cosmetic in nature and does not affect the main structure of the building.”
Regarding the demolition underway on the back part of the school, Mazza acknowledged there have been some delays with Page Demolition, but said, “We were very happy with the progress that he's made thus far. He's been able to salvage tens of thousands of bricks. We have about 94 percent of the original 1924 building down on the ground. That's about two-thirds of the total structure.”
Mazza said the exact timetable for completing the demolition depends on Page Demolition because the contractor, Jeff Page, is working in concert with a Mississippi company to salvage the bricks. However, he anticipates being done before the demolition permit expires in December.
At council's Sept. 28 meeting, area residents and council members voiced concern about the lack of security around the demolition site. Last Friday, Mazza installed snow fencing around the site. He also said that in addition to daily drive-bys by himself or one of his team and constant monitoring by Page's team, several neighbors are watching the site.
“Between all of us we are well aware we need to keep the fence up and tight,” he said.
Because of the change in architectural plans due to incorporating part of the existing school, Mazza might have to bring revised plans back to the zoning commission.
“We've started with the architect's renderings and floor plans for repurposing the front of the building,” he said. “We are doing a lot of work behind the scenes.”
Mazza said he has engaged a financial lender and plans to get construction bids shortly. He expects to have renderings available for council's first meeting in November.