Sherman is on track to demolish 100 derelict structures in the first year since it started conducting demolitions in-house.

The program, which has been in place for several years, was changed in 2019 when the city transitioned from hiring contractors to conduct demolitions to hiring a city crew to conduct the demolitions. In the past eight months, crews have demolished 70 of an estimated 700-800 abandoned or dilapidated properties.

City officials gave an update Monday night on the city’s ongoing Quality Neighborhoods program, through which city crews remove blighted and dilapidated structures throughout the city, clearing the way for redevelopment.

“The goal of this is not to tear down houses,” Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said Monday. “The goal here is to get build-able lots into the world again.”

For the first year of the modified program, the majority of the demolitions were voluntary, with permission from the owner, Quality Neighborhoods Superintendent Chip Matthews said. Once the property is cleared and free of charge by the city, officials said they hope the owners will sell the property to someone interested in redevelopment.

Currently, there are 20 properties that are awaiting demolition.

In January 2019, the council approved spending nearly $425,000 in excess sales-tax revenue on hiring a city crew and purchasing equipment in hopes of lowering its cost for demolitions. Strauch said the one-time price to start the program was higher than initially anticipated and came in at about $490,000.

The city started conducting its own demolitions in mid-spring last year using a three-person crew. In addition to potentially saving money, Strauch said, the city is no longer bound to a contractor’s schedule and has been able to conduct demolitions at a faster rate.

Despite the start-up cost being higher than anticipated, Strauch said, the program was successful in lowering the city’s costs per demolition. While it initially cost the city about $6,000 to hire crews for demolitions, it cost the city just over $4,000 to do the same work using city resources.

“We thought we’d save about $2,000 per property once we move to this and that has turned out to be pretty spot on,” he said.

Despite being close to initial estimates, Strauch said, tipping and disposal fees were higher than initially estimated. City crews expected to pay about $1,300 in tipping fees for each property, but these fees were instead closer to about $1,700. Strauch attributed this to the the size of the structures the city was demolishing and the kind of material that was being disposed.

The structures that city crews demolished over the past year were primarily residences, with a few commercial buildings that were in dire condition. One of the homes on Burdette Avenue was brought to city’s attention by neighbors because it was home to a pack of feral dogs rather than humans, Strauch said. Another home that made the demolition list was just three blocks from Austin College.

City council member Willie Steele asked if there was some way to make the program pay for itself. Strauch said the program was never intended to pay for itself. Putting fees on properties would potentially deter some property owners from using the program. That would then require the city to go through the courts to pursue the demolition, lengthening the process.

City Manager Robby Hefton said that fees could be assessed, but reserved this option for after all voluntary demolitions have been conducted and only non-voluntary cases remain. However, the city is not at that point yet, he said.

How do you feel about the city’s demolition program? Let Local Government Reporter Michael Hutchins know at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.