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Work gets underway at City Hall

By Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

Contractors took the first steps toward demolishing the former Whiteville city Hall Tuesday. Heavy equipment was deployed to the Horace Whitley Building, formerly a U.S. Post Office, Monday afternoon.

On Tuesday, crews began pumping out the circa 1950 underground fuel tank in the back parking lot of the building. After the tank is removed, crews will begin the complex task of removing the asbestos-coated boiler from the basement, as well as starting removal of other asbestos throughout the building.

Built in 1938, the Whitley Building is of a standard design of Post Office used across the country. The building’s basement, however, is below the water table.

Mold began developing after water seeped through deteriorating caulking throughout the basement area. In 2014, the city’s planning and inspections offices moved out of the basement, known by the nickname “The Dungeon.”

Water would pool on some sections of the floor during rainy spells, and documents, books and other materials were ruined due to the high moisture. Workers began developing mold-related health issues, and the city council chose to lease a building downtown while staff searched for a solution to the problem.

Early estimates came in around $500,000 just to strip and secure the basement area several months after it was closed. The mold began to spread throughout the building, however, leading to foul odors and unhealthy conditions on humid days.

The city offices were then moved to Hillcrest Plaza in a customized suite of leased offices. After extensive discussions, city council approved a plan to raze the old building and build a completely new city hall for around $2.5 million.

To clean and stabilize the existing structure was estimated at more than $3.5 million, with no guarantee of success. City officials hope to let bids for demolition of the structure later this fall, with construction to begin next year.

Environmental regulations required the removal of asbestos, lead and the oil tank before work could begin.

Stuart Rogers