EFFINGHAM — A circuit court judge ruled on Monday that the City of Effingham has the authority to demolish part of Village Square Mall.
This comes after the judge ruled that the owners of Village Square Mall, Durga Property Holdings, had until Nov. 10 to start repairs to the building.
The latest ruling authorizes the city to selectively demolish the loading dock of the former Rural King suite and to perform repair work throughout the building.
“It’s our intention to provide some source of heat to that area,” said City Administrator Steve Miller. “Just to get through the winter.”
Miller’s concern is that the sprinkler and fire suppression systems in the Rural King area and in the former J.C. Penney area are not being climate controlled. As the weather gets colder, Miller worries those pipes might burst causing further damage to the property and putting people in the building at risk.
“The goal is to be in compliance with the building codes,” said Miller.
As part of the city’s takeover of this work, crews hired by the property owner were told to stop work earlier this week, according to the project’s architect Randall Plikerd. He alleges the work would have been completed in a matter of days had the city not stepped in.
“It is the city’s position that assertion wouldn’t be accurate,” said Tracy Willenborg, the city’s attorney. “Very little was done between Oct. 27 and Nov. 10. If it was done, it was done on Nov. 9 and 10.”
Miller agrees the work being done was insufficient, particularly as it related to the HVAC systems.
“We couldn’t wait any longer,” said Willenborg.
Miller expects the demolition to begin early next week, possibly Monday. The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution approving an increase to the project’s costs by $23,513 due to the delayed start date and winter provisions.
The reasoning for the city taking over the work, according to Miller, is that the workers and project managers hadn’t submitted sufficient plans for the project.
“That work, those plans, were submitted,” said Plikerd.
Miller said the plans submitted to the city required multiple rounds of revisions. When they were first submitted, the Ohio-based Plikerd was not yet licensed to practice architecture in Illinois. Plikerd says that he understood the plans to be sufficient, given his conversations with city officials.
“The public has not been served by the city’s actions,” Plikerd said.
The city will place a lien for the costs incurred on the property, including construction cost and legal expenses. Willenborg said depending on the outcome, the city will pursue appropriate action to collect that debt.
“We think the city has created this adversarial relationship,” said Plikerd. “We’re not trying to be bad to the City of Effingham at all.”
Willenborg and other city officials have maintained they are focused on code compliance and public safety.
“The city doesn’t have any animosity to the property owner,” said Willenborg.
The case began in April of 2018, though Willenborg says the city had been informally working with the property’s previous owner for several years prior to that. The mall is mostly vacant, save for Bath & Body Works, a boat storage facility and a church, which sometimes uses the space.
The work that is required to bring the building up to code includes constructing several bathrooms, replacing insulation and other elements in several areas of the building’s roof, and other miscellaneous repairs.