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Masonic Temple Owner Scrambles to Find Help Removing Rubble as Cleanup-deadline Lapses

Jim Matherly/Faceboo

Today is the deadline the city set for the owner of the old Masonic Temple to haul away the pile of rubble that is now all that remains of the historic structure, which partially collapsed last month from the weight of a heavy snow load. Owner Harold Groetsema says he can’t pay the $80,000 bill to dispose of the rubble. And he’s asked the city to give him more time to find a solution.

Groetsema says he’s been trying to work out an arrangement to remove what’s left of the Masonic Temple ever since he was informed by his insurance company that it won’t help him pay for getting rid of the rubble.

“They denied everything,” he said. “There’s zero claims to be had. Even the contents – they didn’t cover the contents or anything.”

Groetsema says he’s paid a quarter of the $12,000 demolition fee he owes a company called-in by the city after the structure’s roof partially collapsed on March 17th. due to a heavy snow load. He’s also been unable to convince the Fairbanks North Star Borough to waive the $40,000 tipping fee required to dump the debris, nor the $15,000 to $20,000 he’ll have to pay for special handling because of asbestos that’s been found in it.

So he asked city officials for another 30 days to try and work out some kind of deal.

“We’re just looking for support from the local community,” he said. “We want this taken care of as soon as possible, too. It’s just that the funds are not there.”

Mayor Jim Matherly says he sympathizes with Groetsema’s predicament. But the mayor says he’s got to deal with an eyesore and potential liability problem in the middle of an historic downtown area.

Credit City of Fairbanks
The roof over the rear of the building collapsed March 17, due to a heavy snow load. City officials decided to demolish the rest of the building, out concern for public safety.

“I’d love to see it gone, sooner rather than later,” he said. “I understand the owner has issues with his insurance, but it is a privately owned building.”

The mayor says Groetsema may have had more options if he’d been able to transfer the temple to a nonprofit organization or perhaps formed one to preserve the 112-year-old building. He says those organizations usually have more options available than a privately held company.

“If you have a nonprofit that owns a structure that’s historic,” he said, “then you have some ways to raise money to keep it solid, to do repairs, to do some updating.”

Groetsema says that’s what he learned a few years ago when he was trying to find a funding source to help pay for work on the building.

“We looked at all the historic registry societies and all that sort of thing,” he said. “But you can’t get a grant for an historic building unless you’re a nonprofit organization. Well, I’m not a nonprofit organization.”

Credit KUAC file photo
Many area residents were saddened by the loss of the 112-year-old Masonic Lodge, a longtime downtown fixture.

Groetsema is a private businessman who was operating a restaurant, Big Daddy’s Bar B-Q, located next door to the Masonic Temple when he bought the historic structure in 2008 for $450,000.

“When I first bought the building, no, I didn’t want the building,” he said. “We needed the parking for Big Daddy’s. So they kind threw in the building – if we wanted the parking lot, we had to buy the building.”

He says he thought it might be useable as a sort annex of the restaurant, but after some initial work on the structure, he decided the cost to renovate it wasn’t worth it.

“It just got to be so much money,” he said. “It’s like I couldn’t afford it.”

Groetsema says he used the temple for storage and tried to sell it for $250,000, a little more than half of what he paid for it. He sold the restaurant in 2015 in preparation of retiring. But he was unable to find a buyer for the temple. And now he’s put his retirement plans on hold while he tries to figure out how to get rid of its remains.