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'Beautiful eyesore' considered dangerous, beyond rescue

City applying for grant to help demolition of Limestone Building

ROCK FALLS – From many places inside the Limestone Building along the Rock Falls riverfront, you can look straight up and see the sky.

The basement is one of the few safe places to walk inside the building.

Rock Falls officials are working to demolish the building, at 201 W. First St. It has been vacant for 20 years. Meanwhile, they're worried about people making their way inside the structure.

The city will apply for a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help with planning and assessing demolition, in light of the presence of asbestos that, officials say, can't be removed because the building is so deteriorated that crews can't safely enter.

City Administrator Robbin Blackert calls the building a "beautiful eyesore,” one that it is not feasible to save. The city should get the first draft of its grant back Sept. 16 and will have public meetings and hearings.

It's an adventure being inside the structure.

A spiral metal staircase takes you from the ground floor to the basement. There, you walk over a floor covered with bricks into open space.

The only light entering is sunlight, shining through empty windows and holes in the floor. A section of the roof has collapsed and now rests in the basement, partially blocking a hallway.

There are large dollies you must step over to make it from one end of the basement to the other. Beer cans and McDonald's cups on the ground are evidence that visitors are inside the building more frequently than the city would like.

"We have chain link fence around it and ‘no trespassing’ sign," Administrator Blackert said. "It’s going to attract teenagers or vagrants or whatever. It's not a place people should be venturing into."

In the basement are several couch cushions and a blanket. Another blanket, a pair of Nike cleats, and what looks like a small, broken printer are on the first floor, near a room where, Building Inspector Mark Searing said, officials suspect someone used to live.

Rock Falls Police Chief Michael Kuelper may have been the last police officer to enter the Limestone Building. In 1992, when he was a patrolman, there was a report of someone in the building, he said.

While searching the building, he fell through the floor. A beam broke his fall and stopped him from plummeting into the basement, he said.

It's now the police department's policy not to follow anyone into the building. They patrol it regularly, just like other vacant buildings, but if someone enters, they stop pursuit and call the fire department for assistance, Kuelper said.

There's no immediate danger of the building collapsing, said Brian Frickenstein, an engineer with Willett Hofmann & Associates.

While the floor and roof systems give support to the walls in many buildings, that's not the case with the Limestone Building, he said. Even if the floor and roof were to deteriorate further, the walls most likely wouldn't fall as a result of a strong wind. It probably would take an earthquake to do that, Frickenstein said.

The road east of the building, leading from First Street to the riverfront, has been closed. It's too close to the building and the most immediate danger from the outside: falling bricks.

Frickenstein said the fact that the building has been vacant for so long, and no developer has found a viable business plan, is evidence of just how bad the building is.

"Maybe if 20 years ago somebody would have done something, it could have been saved," he said.

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