Just after 8 o'clock this morning, with Superior Court Judge William Rumer presiding from beneath a large umbrella, a group of workers prepared to unlock and enter the long-blighted property at 3301 Cathryn Drive amid a soaking rain.
“I have jurisdiction over many things,” Rumer quipped, “but obviously not over the weather.”
About 10 days ago, Rumer had ordered that the city be allowed to start work today on assessing, demolishing and rebuilding the home of Dr. Kenneth Barngrover, after some environmental testing and cleanup.
Rumer’s March 27 order set in motion what neighbors hope will be the final chapter in a 23-year-old saga.
The long tale began not long after Barngrover bought the property in 1991, when problems with the sewer system began to become obvious. The family was forced to move out of the main house and into the guest house, and then eventually to leave the property altogether. That was in 1993.
Ensuing lawsuits between Barngrover and the city have gone up and down the judicial ladder from Superior to Supreme Courts over the years, but the gist of the legal decisions is this: the city will clear and clean the property and rebuild a similar set of structures.
That process began this morning. As the group of city workers and engineering and demolition consultants made its way down the property’s steep, overgrown driveway, the compound, visible only in small patches from the street, came into view.
Portions of the main house’s roof have fallen in, as has a portion of one brick wall. Many windows are broken and the property is strewn here and there with household refuse and some children’s toys.
The compound of three buildings -- a main house, pool house and guest house -- is nestled on low ground amid other properties valued from around $200,000 to more than $1 million, according to city tax records.
The buildings are built of matching brick, which is crumbling in places, with many roof planes sagging in waves or having collapsed altogether.
Beside one crumbling exterior wall, an overturned blue city recycling bin rests in comic impotence.
Between the main house and pool house, the concrete pool is partially filled with green water. Vines grow over the pool’s concrete apron and down into the bottom.
Inside the main house, the destruction and decay caused by being exposed to the elements is evident. The ceilings are collapsed in places, leaving piles of molding debris beneath dangling insulation.
In the living room, a brick fireplace stands in front of a sagging ceiling fan and between barren built-in wooden bookcases. Elsewhere a few dishes and vases remain on some shelves.
Addressing the property from this point forward will be done in phases, according to City Attorney Clifton Fay, who was among the small crowd on the grounds this morning.
After some initial inspection and engineering, the buildings will be razed and hauled away. Then environmental inspecting and testing will be done and any contaminated soil will be removed and replaced. The old water and sewer lines, which were the primary culprits in the 23-year saga, will be replaced with lines running along the edge of the property. Finally, new structures will be rebuilt and the property turned back over the Barngrover to do with as he pleases, Fay said.
If the two sides cannot agree on a design for the new buildings, it will be up to the court to approve one, Fay said.