Government

Ohio National Guard Razes Houses on South Side

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The sound of glass breaking and lumber snapping filled the air on Hudson Avenue Monday as one after another abandoned house was razed. But instead of city-paid contractors leveling the decrepit structures, Ohio National Guardsmen oversaw the demolition.

The 1192nd Engineer Co. of the Ohio National Guard is providing the primary support for a two-week demolition campaign on the South Side. Their work is supporting the South Side Blight Removal and Greening effort.

“This falls under the umbrella of what we call the Innovative Readiness Training Program,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio assistant adjutant general. “We leverage opportunities like this to add value to our communities, and it enhances our readiness training for both our federal and state missions.”

The program is part of one of the lesser-known aspects of the mission of the National Guard, Harris said, which is to add value to communities. “It motivates our soldiers because it creates an opportunity to provide a tangible benefit to the community, the assistant adjutant general said. “When our soldiers walk away form this, they know that they’ve done something good for a community.”

Harris, city officials and National Guardsmen spoke to reporters at a press event yesterday at the former Sheridan Elementary School, where the troops were assigned for the day. The 1192nd hopes to raze 12 to 14 houses and their lots fully graded by the time the unit leaves July 22, said platoon leader Lt. Josh Walker.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” he said. “The city gets cleaned up, and [the soldiers] get to accomplish their mission while we get to train.” The troops are stationed at Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center. They travel to Youngstown and back each day.

It’s still unclear how much the city will save because of the project, said Abigail Beniston, code enforcement and blight remediation superintendent. “We’re still unsure about how many they’ll be able to take down, but the original 28 that we proposed would be a cost savings to the city of about $160,000.”

Regardless, any houses the National Guard demolishes will benefit the city, said Mayor John McNally. “Whether it’s 10 houses or 28 houses, whatever we are able to accomplish with the Ohio National Guard, it helps the work what we’re trying to do.”

The city’s demolition department hopes to remove between 500 and 600 vacant houses by the end of the year.

Beniston estimates that some 3,200 vacant properties remain – many on the South Side. “This is an area that needs a lot of attention,” McNally said. It’s taken the city several years to bring the project to fruition, the mayor explained. “A lot it involved getting transfer of properties into the city’s name,” he said, “or basically just having the residents sign the properties over to us.”

Guardsmen expressed appreciation for the city of Youngstown’s preparation work. “The city’s been incredible,” Walker said. “Everything we’ve needed they’ve done. They completely prep the house before we get here. The water, electric is all disconnected.”

The city is in talks to bring the National Guard back as part of a two-week training assignment or throughout the year as part of their weekend training. “It’s definitely something we’re in discussions about,” Beniston said

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.