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Part of shared VFW, Longhorn wall targeted for possible removal

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Local Veterans of Foreign Wars members are desperate to reopen their lounge, even if it means tearing a large hole in the side of their building.

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According to Pat Ziegler, VFW post commander, about 25 local VFW members met Tuesday night and, after much debate, voted in favor of demolishing the second story of a shared wall that connects their building with the debris-littered remains of the old Longhorn Bar on Main Street in Mitchell.

"That should alleviate any safety concerns and the city should let us open," Ziegler said.

According to Jared Balvin, owner of Ironman Construction, of Tyndall, the 30-foot height of the shared wall will be cut in half, greatly reducing the risk of it collapsing and damaging the VFW building.

Extra supports Balvin installed inside the VFW prior to the demolition of the old Longhorn will keep the VFW building standing once part of the shared wall is removed, he said.

The demolition of the 134-year-old former Longhorn, which was believed to be the oldest structure in Mitchell, began May 14. It came to a sudden halt two days later when Balvin discovered a shared wall -- which is approximately 80 feet long and connects the former Longhorn to the VFW Lounge -- is unstable and in danger of collapsing.

The VFW Lounge has been closed for more than three weeks because of uncertainty about the shared wall. The delay in the demolition, along with the risk of the VFW being damaged as a result of the situation, has left Ziegler and other VFW members to worry about the future of their business.

Balvin will need to meet with city officials and provide them with a cost estimate before he can begin to tear down the second story of the shared wall, he said.

A nearby gas line will need to be disconnected before the wall can demolished, Balvin said, and more work will need to be done once that section of wall is taken down.

"We'll have a big gaping hole on the side of our building," Ziegler said, "so they'll have to secure it."

Removing the second story of the shared wall will open up a 51-by-16-foot hole in the south side of the VFW building, according to Balvin. A large tarp will likely be used to cover the hole to protect the inside of the VFW from the weather, he said.

According to Public Works Director Tim McGannon, city officials will likely inspect the site with Larry Jirsa, a local architect working with the city on the project, after the second story of the shared wall is removed, and then decide if it's safe for the VFW to reopen.

VFW members will meet again on Tuesday to discuss possible long-term solutions to the predicament.

Whether that means fixing the current building or selling it to the city and relocating, or something else entirely, will be up to the group's members, Ziegler said. Personally, Ziegler is leaning toward relocating the VFW.

"It might be time to find a new post home," he said.

Ziegler hopes the group will be able to reach a final decision at its meeting Tuesday.

The VFW will soon launch a fundraising effort in an attempt to ease the financial problems that have come as a result of the demolition of the old Longhorn. Exactly what the fundraising effort will entail is yet to be decided, Ziegler said.

"We're going to do something and we hope to get the support of the community behind us on that," he said.

While the VFW has been able to keep up with its bills so far, that won't be the case for much longer, Ziegler said.

"I'm confident we're going to recover from this," he said, "but it's going to take some time and it's going to take some help."

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