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Historic Jesse Lee Home in limbo again

The historic Jesse Lee Home, built in 1925, still stands in defiance of its inevitable demise. The relentless wind has shredded, ripped, and removed the Viqueen covering the old wood-shingled roofs.  The rain and wind are free to enter the leaky roofs and unprotected window openings.  The stucco siding is spalling off in chunks. The stairs continue to rot away. The monument base bearing the words “Balto Mile Zero” has broken in half. Even the relatively new chain link fence is failing from neglect.

The city has spent  hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, utility assessments, maintenance, risk control, and legal fees over failed agreements to restore the property when the building was repossessed in 2001.  In 2014, the Seward City Council signed over the property to the Friends of Jesse Lee Home, a non-profit organization that intended to rehabilitate it for use as a public educational and residential boarding school.

Resolution 2014-059 gave the property to the group in exchange for specific improvements within five years. The agreement prioritized the abatement of hazardous materials including asbestos and lead paint. The resolution also stated the property would revert to the city if the HAZMAT abatement and sewer and water utilities were not completed in that time frame, or if left vacant.

Within that 5-year period, the Friends of Jesse Lee Home has the option to declare that the property does not meet its needs and be released from all obligations under the agreement except for ongoing indemnity obligations and any costs to the City associated with terminating the agreement.

Reports and updates to the City Council have been scarce. After raising millions of dollars from the state and private donors, it is obvious that the Friends are no longer interested in this dream. Their website and Facebook pages are not current. The Balto School office folded. And no HAZMAT, water, or sewer utility work has begun.

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The clock is ticking. The work must be completed no later than August 30, 2019 or…. (drum roll)…            the city gets it back. Then what?

Carol Griswold

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