University properties show signs of neglect, vandalism

Regina Garcia Cano

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Four out of seven unoccupied buildings Kent State owns in the neighborhood west of campus have broken windows, are unlocked or have other damages.


Four out of seven unoccupied buildings Kent State owns in the neighborhood west of campus have broken windows, are unlocked or have other damages.

The status of the properties, which include five houses, a former bar at 213 S. Depeyster St. and the former Record Courier offices at 206 E. Erie St., may have led to reported crimes.

A criminal case report filed by the Kent Police Department on Oct. 11, 2009 describes an incident at 214 S. Willow St. as “Rape – substantially impair (sic) judgment.” The report stated the incident happened on the property’s yard. The case is still open.

In addition to the vacant buildings, two empty lots and an occupied house are owned by the university in the same area of the city. Three more criminal case reports related to the properties have been called into Kent City Police.

At least four incident reports have been filed where the crimes were not significant enough, nor were witnesses available to move the complaints to investigations of criminal activity.

Dean Tondiglia, associate director of public safety of the Kent State Police Department, said when a crime is committed off campus at a university property, the local jurisdiction would respond on the case and the KSUPD will later be notified. Tondiglia confirmed his department was notified by the Kent Police Department on the Oct. 11, 2009 case.

Tom Euclide, Kent State’s associate vice president for facilities planning and operations, said he had no knowledge of the incident.

Euclide said the university is spending as little as possible on the buildings, but enough to keep them safe as Kent State plans future uses for them.

“Plans are not definite,” Euclide said. “We are still working overall on the initiative of the $200 million investment in renovations to campus.”

He said renovations could include furbishing some of the houses as student residences or staff offices, or demolishing some of the properties to extend the University Esplanade stretching downtown to cross state Route 59 at Erie Street. The final decision is still about two months away, near the school year’s end.

Conditions of the properties

Euclide said after the houses became university property, they were locked if unoccupied, and windows were either screwed shut or boarded if broken.

However, during an investigation by the Daily Kent Stater that included three visits to the properties, broken windows, open doors, litter and considerable amounts of snow were observed.

An egg carton, three beer cans, Styrofoam plates and cups could be seen inside one room at 214 S. Willow St. There was graffiti in another room. The basement door was open and two windows were broken. The garage door was open and three of its windows were broken. A bottle of alcohol was at the garage’s entrance; plastic cups and building materials were inside.

In a room at 220 S. Willow St., a beer carton, one beer bottle, several beer caps and a broken mirror were found. Two of the properties’ windows were broken.

The garage door of 225 S. Willow St. was open.

After being questioned on the current status of the houses, Euclide said a maintenance staff member would inspect the properties. But a week later, a reporter for the Daily Kent Stater visited the buildings and did not see any changes.

Community’s concerns

Maintenance crews visit the houses regularly to plow snow, Euclide said, adding that if staff members observe any problems at the houses, they notify the Office of the University Architect.

Euclide said he was notified of two break-ins that occurred during the Fall 2009 semester.

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But neighbors living in the rental units located next to 214 and 220 S. Willow St. say they have witnessed more than two break-ins to both properties.

“It didn’t take long for people to figure out that the houses are vacant and open,” said Jean Hopkins, junior sociology major. Hopkins, who lives next door to one of the properties, witnessed one of the break-ins.

“People kept going in and out in September and October,” she said.

A Kent State student, who admitted trespassing the house at 214 S. Willow St., said the door was not locked when she entered the property. She was able to access the rooms in the second floor, which the student described as colorful. The student asked to remain unnamed for fears of reprisals.

Euclide said the inside conditions of the properties vary depending on the previous ownership. Some were divided to function as rental units and one was occupied by a single family.

Hopkins, who has lived in her current apartment for the past two years, said she is concerned the vacant properties will attract crime to her neighborhood.

“I saw somebody breaking the mirror of a car that was parked over there,” Hopkins said, as she pointed at the driveway of 225 S. Willow St.

Not up to city’s code

Code enforcement officer Troy Loomis said city officials usually contact the owners of properties that have broken windows or doors and ask them to board the house for safety purposes.

Loomis said the city’s Department of Community Development does not require a written complaint to carry out an inspection. It oversees issues related with exterior property maintenance. Loomis said the university’s houses do not have “obvious defects” that he could have noticed while driving around the neighborhood. However, Loomis added, he would survey the properties again.

The commissioner of the city of Kent’s health department, John Ferlito, said he has not received any complaints this year regarding the three university-owned properties described by the Daily Kent Stater. The department manages complaints related to litter. He said he must receive a complaint in order to inspect a private property, even if it is state-owned.

“All vacant structures and premises thereof or vacant land shall be maintained in a clean, safe, secure and sanitary condition as provided herein so as not to cause a blighting problem or adversely affect the public health or safety,” according to the city’s code.

After hearing a description of the conditions of the houses, Ferlito asked the Daily Kent Stater to file a complaint so that he could visit them because they are not in accordance with the city’s Building Code.

Kent Police Lt. Jayme Cole said these abandoned houses are “not a problem” for the city and does not recall officers bringing the properties to his attention in an interview with the Daily Kent Stater. Later the same day, a Daily Kent Stater reporter saw a police officer walking next to 214 and 220 S. Willow St.

Unauthorized people who have entered the houses have definitely committed a crime, Cole said. Possible charges they could face include trespassing, breaking and entering, graffiti, criminal damage and vandalism.

Contact public affairs reporter Regina Garcia Cano at [email protected].