Five years after fire, demolition timeline moving ahead on former St. Albans Jr. High building

Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 7:23 PM EDT
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - It’s been more than five years since a fire ripped through the old St. Albans junior high building with city officials declaring it unsafe a day later.

In December 2020, WSAZ reported the city had been working to demolish the old school with plans to bring in the wrecking ball in the spring of 2021.

Now two years since the tentative plan, the building still stands and neighbors are still frustrated.

Broken windows, debris and vines scaling up the brick walls are just some of the elements greeting Charles Waugh each day when he looks at his neighbor down the street: the former Saint Albans Junior High School.

“In the summertime, when it would be hot. you know what you would get this dank, musty moldy, like, stink smell. coming from here, it was worse in the backyard,” he recalled. “That always stuck in the summertime mold, meth labs? Who knows what,” he said.

WSAZ first met Charles and his wife Kim in December 2020 when the city of St. Albans started looking at bidders to knock down the building. Two and a half years after a fire ripped through the school, at the time expecting demolition to start in the spring of 2021.

“It’s been like the Grateful Dead song,” he said.

“It’s been a long strange trip here, you’re supposed to do it two years ago you should have done it when caught on fire.”

Fast forward to March of 2023 and the old school still looms over the Waugh’s home. Charles said he’s seen some activity around the building but hasn’t been quite sure what’s going on, but Mayor Scott James said after years of gridlock ... these walls should soon be meeting the wrecking ball.

“It was a legal process for the owner, we had to gain ownership of the property,” James said. “We started he wouldn’t go to sign it over to us, so we started finding the owner of the property. and he owed us six figures in fines. And in lieu of the fines, he eventually signed it over to us.”

“Thrasher engineers came in last week, took two to three days did an assessment on asbestos and other materials. and we’re just waiting for the report. once we get to report. all right, and based on their recommendation, we will abate and then we will tear it down.”

Charles said he doesn’t care how the property is used; he just wants the building gone for good.

“I’ve gotten used to it over the years. I mean, when you get used it, numb to the pain to the code or the pain. However, you want to say, ‘It’s there, I’m just looking forward, it’s gonna be gone.’”

The city is going to have to wait for some recent assessments and asbestos tests to come back before demolition can start.

The mayor says he wants to eventually see the property turn the building into single-family homes.