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Answers sought for crumbling structures in downtown Sunnyside

A bulldozer was busy yesterday morning taking out the back portion of a building at 520 Sixth St. in downtown Sunnyside.

But the demolition stopped there as owner Chuck Egley scrambles to try and save the brick structure built in the early 1900s.

Egley said Sunnyside city officials told him in August that the building would have to go because it posed a safety hazard.

"The back part of the building was failing and the brick had shifted and was being supported by a telephone pole," said building official Mike Storms.

Likely a later addition to the rest of the building, the back portion of the building, which is next to an alley, was demolished without causing further damage to the rest of the structure.

For now, removing the back portion has satisfied the city until Egley can come up with a plan to stabilize the building.

"I'm trying to save it because it's a good building," Egley said. "I'm just trying to reinforce the walls."

The chief culprit in the building's demise is mortar that is wearing away and weakening the structure.

Egley said some of the damage to the back portion was caused by city trucks and delivery trucks that cut the corner too close down an adjacent alley.

It's too late for the back of the building, but B7 Engineering of Sunnyside is developing a plan to possibly save the rest of it.

Tim Bardell, an engineer with the firm, said he is working on an idea to develop a steel skeleton that will attach to the walls from inside the building.

Bardell said that would not only stabilize the building, but protect it from earthquake damage.

The steel skeleton method has been used successfully in Spokane, noted Bardell.

The big question, though, is finding an answer that is economically viable.

"I want to see if it's cost effective for the rest of the walls to be reinforced," said Egley, who lives in Yakima. "My plans are to have a retail business there."

Egley added that if the cost is too prohibitive to repair the building, then there would be no choice but to tear it down. He said he does not have the funds to construct a new building at the site.

Storms said a plan needs to be developed and implemented soon if the building is to be saved.

"It needs to be either torn down or repaired," Storms said. He noted he'd like to see a plan this week and, if Bardell decides to go forward with a fix, work needs to begin "right away."

Storms said there are other buildings in Sunnyside, primarily houses, that were originally ordered to be demolished out of safety concerns, then saved by repairs.

Egley's building will not be the only downtown structure to possibly see the wrecking ball.

Storms said he will be inspecting other buildings in downtown that he says appear to be in disrepair.

As with Egley's brick structure, those other property owners may face a situation where they must either fix the building or tear it down.

"This condition affects almost every building in downtown," Bardell said of crumbling brick and mortar buildings. "We're looking at some potentially devastating effects on the rest of the downtown area."

The prospect of a downtown full of empty demolition sites has sent City Attorney Mark Kunkler looking for ways to help building owners maintain the old structures.

"I haven't found any silver bullet yet," Kunkler said of grant funding for owners of old and decaying buildings. "I'm checking all kinds of angles."

One angle Kunkler said he will look into is the possibility of a local historical district that may ultimately help building owners receive property tax breaks for fixing up the old buildings.

In the meantime, Egley is asking for the city's patience while he looks for a financially feasible way to save his building.

"If the city was a little flexible I think we could work things out," Egley said. He also called on the city to look at building conditions elsewhere in the city besides just downtown.

"Let's walk all around through Sunnyside and see other buildings that need work," said Egley, who has owned the building for 15 years. "My building's sort of getting penciled out."

While Egley is asking for time, and Kunkler seeks help, Bardell's hoping his plans may be of use for Egley's building-which was at one time a Hallmark store-and other decaying brick buildings downtown.

"If we're successful, then we at least have a plan," Bardell said. "As long as it's economically viable to do."

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