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RESTORING TAYLORSVILLE: Efforts to identify unsafe structures, bring them up to code a daunting task

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By Shannon Brock

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a three-part series. Over the next few weeks, The Spencer Magnet will present several stories looking at buildings that have been dubbed “unsafe structures” in the City of Taylorsville. This week’s story takes a look at what the designation means and which buildings have been cited as unsafe. Next week, we’ll take a look at the Taylorsville City Commission’s involvement and on Sept. 12, we’ll present the plans in motion and visions for restoring Taylorsville.
For nearly a year, Taylorsville has been littered with “those signs.” You know the type — red background, with either a slash mark or an “X.” But what exactly do the signs mean and why are they there?

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The signs, often confused as a mark of condemnation, are actually a visual cue for members of the Taylorsville-Spencer County Fire Department if the buildings were to catch on fire.
Fire Chief Nathan Nation said the department has three signs it can post on buildings:
•The “X” — This sign has a red background and two white diagonal lines that form an “X.” Out of the three signs, the “X” is the worst. This sign signals to firefighters that the marked building is extremely dangerous. In this case, “we’re not going in,” Nation said. Because the sign also signifies that the building is vacant, firefighters won’t attempt to go into the building unless it’s a very small fire or if they have reason to believe a life is at stake, perhaps if someone was inside even if they shouldn’t be.
•The slash — This sign has a red background with one white diagonal line. Buildings with this marking are also vacant, but in slightly better or “marginal, in-the-middle” condition, Nation said.
•Solid red — This sign is just a solid red background, which signifies the building is vacant. Currently, the fire department doesn’t have any of these signs posted, Nation said.
Buildings currently marked and on the fire department’s — and the city’s — radar are:
•107 Reasor St.
•14, 20, 22, 26 and 30 W. Main St.
•57 Jefferson St.
•102 Garrard St.
•503 Garrard St.
•Old water plant off Garrard Street
Through his duties with the fire department, Nation can inspect commercial properties and residential properties with three or more units for fire safety and life safety issues, which is where many of the above properties fall.
His duties do not include inspecting single-family housing units, unless he receives a complaint — which is the case in the property located at 503 Garrard St.
According to documents supplied with the media packet at the April 3 City Commission meeting, Nation first filed a complaint on the properties at 503 and 505 Garrard in July 2009, but neither the city nor the property owner followed up to correct any deficiencies.
Nation again filed a complaint on those two properties on Oct. 17, 2011, after being invited by a former resident to come see the living conditions.
“The condition was horrible,” Nation said. “While I was at one house, a neighbor came over and said, ‘Come look at mine.’”
Through action of the City Commission, both properties were ordered closed.
At the time, the two properties were owned by Helen McKinley, but have sold in the past few months to Michael Monroe, who has since torn down the residence at 505 Garrard. However, the structure at 503 is still standing and still displays the sign with an “X.”
Efforts are underway to preserve the house at 102 Garrard St. for historical significance as it was believed to be the birthplace of Felix Stidger, otherwise known as the “spy who saved the Union,” according to local historian Tom Watson.
That property is owned by the heirs of Bud Mock.
The city is also in talks with Claude Owens, who owns the Old Water Plant, regarding the possible historical significance of that property and efforts to secure the property grounds.
The other properties on the list — the Main Street properties owned by Nellie Snider, the Jefferson Street property owned by Helen McKinley and the Reasor Street property owned by Arnettia Lawrence — have been inspected by a contractor and the property owners have been notified of what the buildings will require to be brought up to code.
Any property that has been closed by the fire department or according to the city’s unsafe structure ordinance, Ordinance No. 86, cannot be reopened for business or rented until it passes a fire and electrical inspection.
The city’s ordinance sets specific guidelines for structures to be deemed “unsafe,” as well as processes for having that designation removed.
Check out next week’s Spencer Magnet for a closer look at that ordinance and for more information on what the city has (or hasn’t) done to enforce it.