Oelwein neighborhoods are changing almost overnight as the city continues with its Neighborhood Stabilization Program, in an effort to remove dilapidated structures and make space available for new housing.
At the beginning of this year, the city became new owner of several rundown rental properties that were given up by a landlord. Those properties combined with others that had been deemed beyond repair add up to 44 slated for demolition in various neighborhoods.
At the June 22 City Council meeting Lansing Brothers Construction of Luxemburg was awarded the contract for the collective project of demolition of all the properties. At that time there were 41, however, three more were added in an approved change order at the July 27 meeting. It was determined at the late June meeting the teardowns would begin as soon as asbestos removal was done.
ECCO Midwest, Inc., a Minnesota firm with an office in Cedar Rapids, was awarded the contract for asbestos removal from 23 of the 44 properties. ECCO employees were onsite at 219 East Charles St., Thursday morning to begin asbestos removal in preparation for demolition of that house in the coming weeks.
“This is our second week in Oelwein,” said employee Austin Hines, as he suited up with protective gear before entering the house. Hines said he has been working for ECCO for six years doing asbestos removal and every location is different.
He explained their work depends on the inspector’s report of the structure in question. Oelwein City Inspector Jim Prouty is a licensed asbestos inspector. It is his job to take the samples from each property and have them tested.
“From those reports from Jim, we know what has to be removed on a house,” Hines said.
Asbestos is used as an effective insulator and can be used to make other materials stronger such as sub-flooring and insulation around pipes and furnace ducts. It is resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion, which made is very useful in construction, as long as it remained covered and undisturbed. However, once exposed, asbestos dust has been found to be highly toxic and there are numerous health hazards associated with it.
ECCO employees lined the outside of the house on East Charles with heavy plastic and also lined the container into which the contaminated items will be placed for safe disposal of hazardous materials.
“We’re very safety conscious and trained in what we are doing,” Hines said. He said after they finish at 219, they will move up the street to another house on their list, and so on, until all the properties are mitigated.
Lansing Brothers representative had previously told the Council the company could tear down two or more houses per week, so ECCO employees are working to stay one step ahead.
Hines said they expected to be in Oelwein for approximately two more weeks after this week.
This week, demolitions are taking place in the 100 block of Second Avenue Northwest. The total cost of asbestos removal and demolition of homes is just short of a half-million dollars. The project is funded through local option sales tax.
City Administrator Dylan Mulfinger said that once the houses are demolished and the lots are leveled off, the city will have some for sale to build on, while others are being acquired by adjacent property owners. A list of available properties can be found on the city’s website.