Sherman expects to hit 120 demolitions for 2020

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
A building at 1013 Epstein Street is among the blighted homes that have been demolished under the city's quality neighborhoods program.

Over the past four years, the city of Sherman has worked to increase efficiencies in the way it addresses dilapidated and blighted buildings. In that time, the city has taken steps to bring to bring new leadership and new crews to handle these demolitions.

Now, the city is showing results.

City officials recently said the city is on pace to demolish between 100 and 120 blighted homes and other structures a year — up from the 15 to 20 it was doing prior to reforms to the program.

The topic of demolitions and the city's Quality Neighborhoods Program have been a point of discussion throughout the city's budget season. One of the questions that city leaders are considering is a proposed increase to the program's scope to escalate these efforts even further.

"The question before the council is that if you want to do anything more than we are currently doing, we need more," City Manager Robbie Hefton said. "If you are ok with what we are doing, and the levels we are doing on commercial and the residential side, then we are cool."

During the city's budget retreats, Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch affectionately nicknamed the demolition aspect of the program "the kraken" after the legendary sea monster due to its ability to quickly move in and remove a dilapidated structure, clearing the way for redevelopment into new homes and businesses.

"The kraken comes out of the sea, takes down the ship and all that is left is calm water," Strauch said.

Prior to 2018, the city conducted its demolitions using outside crews and resources. This method had its problems as it proved to be expensive and slow as the city competed with other construction and demolition jobs and contracts.

However, this started changing when the city hired Chip Matthews as its neighborhood quality coordinator. The following year, the city hired a crew to handle demolitions in house and a compliance officer was added in 2020.

Since then, the program has been able to increase the number of residential demolitions it conducts to about 120 in 2020, with an estimated 100 demolitions expected for 2021. The cost of each demolition has also gone down as city crews conduct the demolitions.

A new home has been built at 1013 Epstein in Sherman after the previous building was demolished as a part of the Quality Neighborhoods program.

As an example, Strauch said the demolition of a house on 914 E. Houston cost the city about $4,900 using outside crews in 2018. If the same demolition was conducted today, city crews would be able to do it for about $1,500.

This lower cost also allows the city to recoup its expenses quicker as the property is redeveloped. The property on East Houston has since been redeveloped as a new residential home, increasing its tax revenues for the city by $675, which would allow the city to recoup the cost in just over seven years. With city crews, this would occur after just three years.

As the program has grown more efficient, city crews have been able to diversify and approach other types of demolitions, including complicated commercial structures that take more resources. Currently, the city estimates that it can handle about 10 of these demolitions each year.

City staff are planning to hire a new clerk position for the program to handle much of the backend work, including paperwork and court documents related to the demolitions. This will also free up Matthews to pursue other tasks within the scope of the program and focus on the big picture, city officials said.

Staff also proposed adding a second crew to double the efforts of the demolitions programs, but this would come with a $500,000 price tag for equipment and $350,000 in recurring staffing costs. Ultimately city council members said they were comfortable at the program's current pace.