Time and the constant cycle of freezing and thawing finally got the better of the concrete blocks topping one of the old Cattaraugus Elementary Building's front doorways. On a routine check of the property, local Police Chief Don Veith discovered that a large chunk of the decorative faade was loose and in danger of toppling.
Veith viewed this not as a minor problem, but as a potentially disastrous one, since it is well known that local youngsters routinely break into the old building to vandalize it. He feared the block could fall onto one of them as they exited the building.
Upon reporting his concerns to the Cattaraugus Village Board, Veith was told that since the village doesn't own the building, the board can't legally authorize the department of public works to do anything about it. Veith offered to find someone outside the village to do the job, but was told that wasn't an option, as it could still involve the village in a liability situation.
The block that was removed from above the old Elementary School’s doorway, along with some accompanying debris, was recycled to seal a hole through which local youngsters have been illegally accessing the old building. As evidenced in this photo, Ms Blakely had the lower windows on the back side of the building covered several years ago, but vandals persistently worked at this particular board, until they finally pried it off.
The chief, however, couldn't put the image of that teetering block out of his mind, so he took it upon himself to locate the building's alleged owner, Ms. Lorna Blakely, who lives in nearby North Otto. When informed of the situation, she expressed both surprise and concern. In the first place, she told Veith, she thought she'd been foreclosed on several years ago, and no longer owned the structure. When Veith informed her otherwise, she told him she'd see to the stone's immediate removal.
That same day, she faxed a letter to Veith authorizing him to arrange for removal of the big stone and any adjacent loose material that might pose a threat. Veith relayed the message to the board, which discussed the situation with their lawyer, who, in turn, advised them of possible legal ramifications of such an act. At this point, the board informed the chief they'd decided it would be better not to involve the village in the matter.
Taking matters into her own hands, Ms Blakely arranged for the safe removal of the loose block, after which the village erected a caution fence around the doorway.
Blakely undertook to explain her connection with the structure, saying that she and her brother, Randy Dollinger, originally purchased the old school in about 2004. "Our vision had three parts," she said. "We wanted to establish a vocational service for persons with disabilities; we planned to use part of the building for critical care medical services; and we wanted to set up an after-school community center."
Blakely said when she received a notice of foreclosure in 2008, she took it to mean the property no longer belonged to her. At that point, she said, her developers pulled out of the project, and she and her brother, having exhausted their resources, gave up on it. When she read in the paper that other developers were being shown through the building, she said it only reinforced her perception that the building was the village's (or county's) property, rather than her own.
Ms. Blakely said that if she did, indeed, own the building, she'd like to sell it. She said she planned to attend a future village board meeting to further explore the situation, adding that although she'd put it behind her, she still harbored a certain degree of bitterness about the experience. It should be noted that none of the current board members were a part of village government during most of the time frame involved.