Former Dunbar building a veritable zoo, says neighborhood

Authored by Jim Langham on Apr 26, 2013

The building that once housed Dunbar Furniture, one of the most successful businesses of its kind in the Midwest, is a veritable zoo and breeding grounds for wild animals, rodents and cats these days, say residents in the Fulton Street-Dearborn Street area that surrounds the rapidly deteriorating structure.
Neighbors in the area have reported sighting scores of wild cats, raccoons, possums and other wild animals coming and going from the building.
John Wanner, who lives on Fulton Street, says that three years ago, in a period of two months, he trapped 15 animals, including possums, ground hogs and other wild animals.
“It’s a zoo over there,” said Wanner. “One day that was dark and rainy, we looked across the street and saw a raccoon poke its head out of the north wall. We have seen raccoons crawling over the fence surrounding the plants.”
Wanner said that part of the roof of the larger building has collapsed, resulting in debris available to launch into the neighborhood with every gust of wind.
“When we had a thunderstorm with lots of wind, debris from that building littered the whole neighborhood,” said Wanner.
“The city is certainly aware of the depth of the problem and is involved in working on it,” said Berne Mayor Bill McKean. “We’re looking at financial possibilities. We’ve sent letters to the corporation that owns it but it hasn’t responded back.”
McKean said that city attorney James Beitler is looking into grant possibilities that would provide financial assistance in tearing down the building.
McKean noted that the property was listed in a Sheriff Sale, but there wasn’t one bid of interest that came from the effort.
“The problem is that this is a very risky undertaking,” said McKean. “We’re doing all we can to examine possibilities of ways to handle this. We’re working with county offices in trying to solve this.”
McKean said that Adams County Health director Terry Smith has walked through the building several times with city officials in trying to look for a solution.
“We are just scraping the surface right now,” said Smith. “The real problem is that tearing it down is monumentally expensive.
“Is it a health hazard,” said Smith. “It could be attracting wild animals. It could be considered a rodent harbor. If that is the case, it is a violation of a state code.”
Smith said that his biggest concern, even more so than the animal hazard, is whether or not the building is a safety hazard. The health leader said that he suspects that the safety issue is bigger than the animal issue, although both are a problem.
“There’s enough room in there for a meth lab the size of a gym,” commented Smith. “The rodents may be a hazard, but they are not the worst. The safety hazard seems to be the biggest.”
Smith advised that those with children in the area absolutely stress that they stay completely away from that property. He said that the dangers of injury for anyone going into the building are overwhelmingly possible.
Dave Wulliman, who lives immediately across from the office portion of the building, said that he and his wife were entertaining guests one day during a windstorm.
“It was the Sunday before Easter; we looked out the window and saw white chunks blowing all over the place,” said Wulliman. “Right after the windstorm we had a big snow. Once the snow melted, there was stuff everywhere, all over the street and everyplace.”
Wulliman said he reported the situation to McKean who immediately sent city officials to the area to clean up.
“It was really brittle stuff,” said Wulliman. “I was very happy with the way the mayor and city officials responded so quickly. I’ve lived here since 1978; it’s such a shame to watch that building fall down like that.”
Wulliman said that cats have been coming out of the building en masse. He noted that one day he counted 23 cats in the neighbor’s yard.
Lisa Wanner referred to the structure as a, “wild animal haven.”
Wanner said that she and husband, John, were entertaining friends one day when one of the guests asked, “what is that dilapidated building next to you?
“I’m not sure what is going on but it seems like there are more and more windows being broken out,” said Lisa Wanner. “I’ve never seen anyone in the building but it seems like something is going on.
“It is so sad to see this happen,” Wanner said. “It is such a cool, historic building. It’s so sad to see it deteriorate like that.”
McKean emphasized that city officials are working as diligently as they can to figure out a way to alleviate the problem. He noted that anyone who suffers side effects from the building in any way should report it immediately to the city.
“We will do everything we can to help those residents until we can do something more substantial,” said McKean. “We are doing all that we can to try to care for this problem.”

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