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City to raze burned-out schoolhouse

Modesto will demolish the burned-out shell of the old John Muir schoolhouse on East Morris Avenue.

"By midweek, we will have a real action plan," James E. Niskanen, city Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods director, said Monday. "We just cannot afford curiosity seekers wanting to get in there and see what fire damage looks like."

Niskanen said once the demolition plan is ready, it should take only a day to knock down the building, which has been part of Modesto's history since 1923. Clearing the debris will take longer, he said.

By the end of the week, the city's cultural services man- ager, Wayne Mathes, expects to have an estimate of the fi- nancial value of the historical artifacts destroyed in Sunday's blaze. He said Sunday that the pieces made up about half of Modesto's historical collection. Mathes is putting together an inventory of what was lost. Many of the items had been photographed, he said, which will make it easier to make the insurance claim.

Mathes will work with the city's Acquisition Committee to put prices on the objects. The committee is made up of volunteers who are familiar with estate sale and antique markets.

The city's chief building official declared Monday that the structure was unsafe and that it can't be occupied, Niskanen said. Although this observation would be obvious to anyone who saw the charred facade, he said, the declaration is the first step in the demolition proc-ess, which includes getting permits from agencies such as the Air Quality Control Board and procuring a contract for the demolition work.

Insurance agents will inspect the site within a few days while the city determines how to proceed, Niskanen said.

The fence around the burned building and 24-hour security detail will remain in place until the building is knocked down.

Building materials, such as the structure's bricks, could be reused or recycled if they're salvageable, Niskanen said. When the city demolishes a building, inspectors evaluate everything from timber frames to doorknobs to see whether there's a use for them. The city was in the "early stages" of selling the building and lot, he said Sunday.

Despite the building's prob- lems with vandals and vagrants, no one ever breached the security of the storage rooms on the second floor, Niskanen said. The city had determined that the space was appropriate for his- torical artifacts; no other city-owned facilities were vi- able, he said.

As the city prepares to clear the lot, several neighbors of the old schoolhouse say they hope T.B. Scott Park will grow as a result. The park has a restroom, several concrete picnic tables with crumbling edges and the John Muir school's original playground.

The city should install lighted tennis courts and a pavilion with shaded tables, John Gentleman wrote in an e-mail. Gentleman's mother taught in the school building, and he recalled, as a 5-year-old, climbing the metal stairs behind it, peering into Acacia Memorial Park from a platform at the top.

"A better park, that serves more and offers more, would benefit the neighborhood much more than some business going into the middle of a residential neighborhood," he said.

Neighbor Bill Pritchard agreed.

"Take it down and fill it in with more park," said Pritchard, 61, who lives just blocks away. "We need more green spaces."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.

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