After 113 years, time is finally running out for the old yellow house in Butler Children’s Park in West Plains. On Wednesday, city crews began the process of removing fixtures from the house to be sold at public auction.
West Plains city officials announced Tuesday that a settlement agreement was reached in litigation between Friends of Parkside and the city. The agreement will allow the city to remove certain items from the Parkside House to be auctioned, with proceeds going to the city of West Plains.
According to a stipulation in the agreement, after a public auction the temporary injunction issued by the court in November 2018 will be lifted and the city can proceed with the house’s demolition.
In a prepared statement by the Friends of Parkside and released by their attorney Chrys Fisher, the citizen group expressed regret that a historic community resource was allowed to fall into disrepair and be torn down.
“The citizens’ group worked in good faith to pursue identified grant opportunities,” the statement reads. “That process could not move forward without cooperation from the city. Ultimately, what should have secured as an example of community collaboration degenerated into artificial deadlines, and then lawsuits.
“We hoped the city’s ordinance process would cure these misgivings, instead, we are resigned to accept it only perpetuated the city’s agenda.”
“As much as we dislike the idea of destroying Parkside,” the group concluded, “we have concluded further investment of time and resources with litigation does not serve the public interest.”
The items to be removed for auction include two pocket doors, the pine doors from the second floor, the fireplace mantle from the room in the southeast corner of the first floor, the main stairway and the trim associated with the above items.
Wednesday, crews began the process of removing the items for the auction, to be held at a time yet to be set.
According to City Administrator Tom Stehn, the process of removing the items could take a week or more to complete. The removed items will be stored inside the house in preparation for the auction to take place within two or three weeks.
“The timelines are very tentative, but the plan is to move forward fairly quickly,” Stehn said. Soon after the auction, the house will be demolished so crews can begin work on the splash pad in order to have it ready in time for spring, he added.
Stehn said the city will also apply for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to help pay for the construction of a playground intended to be accessible to children of all abilities. The updated playground will be part of the second phase of rehabilitating the park. The 2020 deadline for the grant application is Feb. 14.
A proposal to save the house and turn it into a discovery center, referenced by the Friends of Parkside in their statement as “the city’s ordinance process,” was defeated by West Plains voters in November 2019. The preservation group had raised concerns regarding the ballot language approved during the August city council meeting.
The house had been leased by the city to the Friends of the Parkside House from 2014 until June 2018, and the group was tasked with raising about $600,000 necessary to rehabilitate the house. The group received pledges from the community for about $200,000 total in that time.
Since 2013, when the city moved its Parks and Recreation headquarters from the Parkside House to Jimmy Carroll Winter Sports Complex on Olden Street, the building has sat vacant and boarded up. The city council voted to decline a lease renewal with the Friends of Parkside in 2018 citing the group’s perceived inactivity and the city’s concerns about sustainability.
In August 2018, after a part of the house’s exterior collapsed and an engineer was called from Springfield to assess the building’s state, city Building Inspector Dustin Harrison deemed the house a potential hazard, particularly because of its location in the heart of an active children’s park.