By Robert Tomlinson
WHITE PIGEON — More than two months after the go-ahead was given for restoring the former Tasty Nut Shop building in White Pigeon, the efforts have begun in earnest.
On Monday, crews from Building Restoration Inc. placed a mesh bracing on the much-maligned southwest corner of the building, located on the corner of U.S. 12 and Kalamazoo Street in the village, designed to help stabilize the most unstable part of the pre-Civil War structure so work can begin on restoring it to its former glory.
The move is the start of the planned multi-phase restoration of the building, something representatives from Building Restoration, Inc. and the nonprofit Union Hall Block Building Inc. (UHBBI) had been highly anticipating over the last several months.
“It feels like it’s taken forever to get here, but it feels really good that we’re at this point,” David Howard, president of UHBBI, said. “The stabilization’s been necessary for quite some time, and it’s been over the last 90 days that we’ve been trying to pull together the program to secure the funding to be able to do the stabilization, which we have, and so now we’re getting that portion done.”
The mesh on the southwest corner will be accompanied by a frame holding it down to the building. Work to put the mesh up occurred on Monday and Tuesday, and Blair Bates, president of Building Restoration Inc., said the mesh’s purpose is akin to putting the building in “suspended animation.”
“Right now, this back end of the building, the upper section with all the loose bricks that are up there, you don’t need this falling down on pedestrians or anybody else and causing more harm. All we’re doing is holding it together for the moment,” Bates said. “We’re taking care of the effects so it doesn’t get worse and we lose the corner of the building.”
Bates said the mesh work will be followed up by work on the building’s foundation, which is estimated to continue into early next week. That work, he says, involves digging a trench around where the wall is currently collapsing on the inside of the building, injecting what Bates called a “stabilization liquid” to change the sand in the foundation to rock and put a “reinforcement shield” in it to stop the continued settlement of the building.
There is also a fence around the sidewalk on Kalamazoo Street where the work is being performed on the building to keep pedestrians away from the vicinity of the building. Howard estimated the mesh will be in place for nine months, and that once the outside of the building is repaired, the mesh will be taken down.
The cost of this stabilization effort is estimated to be between $35,000 and $50,000, while the overall project to restore the entire building could cost around $3 million to $5 million.
This week’s initial stabilization of the former Tasty Nut Shop building could be seen as a welcome sight in the saga over the building’s fate ever since it began in November 2021. The building, which also housed a catering company, was originally cited back in 2021 for falling bricks and mortar coming off of it, deeming the building unsafe. An engineering report commissioned by the village at the time called for the building’s demolition, but later, an opposing engineering report commissioned by the owners at the time, Marjorie Hamminga and Linda Hochstetler, opined that the building could be restored.
The building’s code violations eventually went to court, where it was ordered that the new owners of the building, UHBBI, which was formed in April 2022 and acquired the building via quick claim dead in May 2022, needed to have a hearing before a Construction Board of Appeals, where the village could have potentially pursued demolition. That board, on Nov. 1, 2022, gave UHBBI 90 days to stabilize the building, as well as 180 days to complete an engineering evaluation and one year to complete the structural restoration. If stabilization had not been met by the end of the 90-day timeframe, the demolition order made by the village would have gone through.
With the 90-day period between the stabilization deadline and the engineering evaluation, Howard said there will be work done with the building, but it “won’t be as apparent” as this week’s stabilization work.
“The next 90 days is really as much planning and organizing for the long-term restoration, as well as just sealing up windows. If you have windows that are broken, you need to seal those things up,” Howard said. “The second 90-day period is more documentation and contractual going forward.”
That second 90-day period, he said, will also include the work necessary to get to some of the big repairs, such as getting architectural drawings and renderings, the engineering evaluation, artwork for what the building could look like, and more. Howard said UHBBI has entities lined up to help with those pieces, adding that some of the work has already begun.
“That was early-phase work. We’ve got to now tie that together with this construction company and then establish a final plan and present it to the appeals board,” Howard said.
There currently isn’t another hearing with the Construction Board of Appeals until May, which would determine whether the improvements being made are to its satisfaction. Howard mentioned that UHBBI wanted to reach out to the Construction Board of Appeals earlier to give them updates, but said they were told the two entities could only communicate “lawyer to lawyer” at this point.
“We’re going forward and complying with the requirements, but have no way to give them updates,” Howard said. “We really want to build a bridge; we don’t want barriers between us and the village and us and the board of appeals in order to be able to do the work and communicate. We’re working to try to make that happen, but it’s going to take a little more effort, I think.”
Partnering with the village in any capacity related to the restoration effort is also on Howard’s wish list for the future.
“I’m hopeful that the village wants to work with us, and allows us to partner to take this building to its final glory,” Howard said. “I’m hoping specifically that they see the value of having that building restored as a cornerstone to their downtown renovation, rather than tearing it down and putting something else in its place.”
When asked about the group’s fundraising situation, something that has concerned many an official throughout the entire process, Howard said it has been “going better now” since the November 2022 Board of Appeals hearing, and is hopeful that tangible signs of work on the building will equal more donations to their cause.
However, Howard could not provide an exact figure on how much money has been raised so far by the group, only saying they have at least raised “enough to be able to do this work,” referencing the stabilization, and that they have commitments from a number of entities.
“We have commitments beyond what we’ve actually received, but those commitments are – Diane [Hoffman, UHBBI Treasurer] and I have a similar philosophy – until the money’s in your hand, you don’t have the money,” Howard said. “We have commitment from people that they will give money, but we don’t have it yet. I’d be out of line to speculate how much we would have in that area.”
When it comes down to it, both Howard and Bates are optimistic about the effort going forward, given the historical nature of the building.
“This building’s got lots of history, so we’d like to be able to bring that forth going forward,” Howard said.
“This is a gorgeous building with a lot of history. To just say, let’s tear down the building and charge the residents of this very small community, it’d be terrible,” Bates said. “So now that we can save a piece of history, and this building is very attached to the Underground Railroad, this is well worth saving.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.