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5/4/2012 9:17:00 AM
Henry County town hopes to demolish 'nightmare' building
A storm damaged building in the middle of Straughn has been vacant for many months. Much of the roof is missing but the part that remains was picked up by wind and reset off center on the building. (David Burns / C-T Photo)
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A storm damaged building in the middle of Straughn has been vacant for many months. Much of the roof is missing but the part that remains was picked up by wind and reset off center on the building. (David Burns / C-T Photo)

Craig Mauger, Courier-Times News Editor

STRAUGHN - For four years, Debbie Smith has worked across the street from what she says is a nightmare.

Her nightmare is a large brick building at the corner of U.S. 40 and Road 500 East in the center of Straughn.

The building's roof has been destroyed and a piece of what remains hangs off the side of the structure. Glass from broken windows lies on the sidewalk, and the inside of the building, which is filled with tires and trash, smells like a sewer.

"I can't express how many dead-ends I've come to," Smith, the clerk-treasurer for Straughn, said on Thursday. "I might as well stand and pound my head against the wall."

For years, Smith and other Straughn residents have sought ways to have the building, which stands across U.S. 40 from the town hall, demolished. So far, they've come up short.

But now, the town's demolition project is one of 100 finalists in a State Farm-sponsored online competition that will award $25,000 to 40 different projects across the U.S.

To win the money, all Straughn needs is votes on Facebook.

Asked about the $25,000 on Thursday, Smith said, "It would mean everything."

Problems with the century-old brick building on U.S. 40 began in January 2008 when a serious storm roared through Straughn, a town of about 280 people in western in Henry County.

To this day, residents of Straughn say it was a tornado that hit their town on Jan. 29, 2008. But the National Weather Service classified the storm as straight-line winds.

Whatever it was, the storm damaged homes and shifted the brick building's roof off the structure, leaving a portion of the roof hanging off the east side of building.

Since the storm hit, the vacant building has continued to deteriorate. It's roof is now completely destroyed, windows have been broken out, and the front of the building is moving away from the side walls.

Smith worries that one day, the front of the building will collapse onto U.S. 40.

Once, last month, Smith was working in the town hall and it was storming outside. She heard a car wreck but thought the building across the street was finally coming down.

She said to herself, "Oh my God, the building's falling."

The building's owner, who didn't have insurance, has abandoned the property and has stopped paying property taxes on it, according to Smith.

Bambi Boyd knows the building's story well. She lives a few feet away from it on U.S. 40.

When high winds blow through Straughn, the winds often knock pieces of debris off the building and onto her property and sometimes into her house.

"Right now, it's a cat breeding farm," Boyd said of the building. "You can smell the feces and the urine and the mold."

People have also thrown rocks through the building's windows, and others have stolen items out of it.

"It just needs to come down," said Boyd, who is also a member of the town council.

The council and Smith have tried over and over again to get help to knock the building down.

The cost of the demolition could be anywhere form $15,000 to $25,000, Smith said. The town's annual total budget for all of its operations is just $35,275.

The town council has considered taking out a loan for the project, but Smith isn't sure the town could afford to pay the loan back.

Smith said the town has also contacted the Henry County Commissioners but was told the county has no money available for the project.

In addition, Smith spoke with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Eastern Indiana Development District.

"We've looked into all kinds of grants," Smith said. "Nothing would cover anything like that."

But in March, Smith was using the social-networking website Facebook when she noticed an advertisement for State Farm's Cause An Effect community grant program.

The advertisement said the program would give $25,000 to 40 projects that would help improve their communities.

Smith decided to apply and proposed that the $25,000 be used to tear down the building and replace it with a green space and A community garden.

State Farm received applications for about 3,000 projects, and in April, selected 100 finalists, including the Straughn project and a handful of others in Indiana.

"I was shocked," Smith said of being a finalist. "I was really shocked."

From now until May 17, Facebook users can vote for the projects they believe should receive the money.

People can vote for the Straughn project by going to and clicking on the "Cause An Effect" button. The Straughn project is called "Remove the DANGER."

Smith said people can vote up to 10 times each day. To do that, only takes about two minutes, she noted.

State Farm will announce the 40 winning projects on May 22.

On Thursday, Smith said Straughn residents frequently come to the town hall and ask for updates on the building.

"I know they're tired of me saying, 'We're working on it,'" Smith said.

As Boyd and Smith were discussing the building on Thursday morning, William F. Werhly of Straughn walked in to pay his utility bill.

Asked about the building, he said, "It's an eyesore to me."

He added, "Get that down. Put a 7-Eleven in or something,"

With a smile, Smith said of the 7-Eleven idea, "I don't think we'll be doing that."

Copyright 2016, The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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