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Historic Van Buren building falters

MAIN STREET:Abuilding at 102 E. Main St., Van Buren, which was once an opera house, could collapse at any time afterthe roof caved inMonday.

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

VAN BUREN — A historic building at the heart of the town of Van Buren is on the verge of collapse, town officials said, after most of its roof gave way Monday. 

The building at 102 E. Main St. has a bulging brick wall that is causing concern that the rest of the building may follow. 

“It could happen today, it could happen a week from now,” said Van Buren Fire Chief Donnie Plummer. 

The building sits at the intersection of Ind. 5 and Main Street.

Representatives from the Indiana Department of Transportation have temporarily blocked off that section of Ind. 5. The worry is that the building could fall onto the state highway.

“If it fell west, it would take out all of Highway 5,” said Van Buren Town Council President Tony Manry.

The red brick structure was once an opera house, Manry said, and is situated right at the center of town.

Town council member Jerry Caudill said it was a thriving local market when he moved to Van Buren 40 years ago, but for the last four or five years he and the council have been trying to have the building torn down.

Manry said the council has been unable to act because they can’t get in touch with the building’s current owner.

After the roof collapse Monday Manry said the Sheriff’s Department sent deputies to the owner’s home address in Montpelier but nobody was there.

The building was most recently used for apartments, but it had been uninhabitable for several years.

“Those walls are ready to fall,” Caudill said.

Mark Kirkpatrick, who works at the American Legion post across the street from the building, said he has been worried about the building for years, especially with the heavy traffic from the popcorn festival in the summer.

He has watched the building go from decrepit to dangerous.

“We knew it was just a matter of time,” Kirkpatrick said.

Manry said the town was working with the state and the Grant County Area Plan office to come up with an action plan.

The Area Plan office needs a court order to be able to tear down a privately-owned structure and that process can take months or even years, said Area Plan Director Larry Strange.

Manry said it was possible the town could request an emergency court order.

Strange said his office was meeting with attorneys Tuesday to explore the available options.

Meanwhile, Ind. 5 will remain closed alongside the building and the area immediately surrounding the building will be blocked off until the town can find a solution.