County grapples with safety threats

Robert Smith
What’s left of an old commercial structure on the main thoroughfare in Fairfax continues to cause concern. The building has been stabilized so that a neighboring clinic is able to operate, but residents reportedly worry that the whole building should be considered an emergency. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

A wall has been erected to protect the Robert Clark Family Health Center in Fairfax from a crumbling commercial structure next door, but Osage County commissioners were told Monday that residents of the area are anxious about the rest of the dilapidated building.

The Clark health center returned to operations last week, after JL & Associates of Pawhuska erected a wall to shield the clinic from the former business building. That threat has been addressed, but Fairfax resident Carol Conner told commissioners Monday that she has talked to residents who are worried about the possibility the rest of the old Big Hill Store building could collapse.

“I’m hearing lots and lots of frustration,” Conner said.

Jerry Butterbaugh, who is also from the Fairfax area, asked commissioners Monday whether the Fairfax municipal government could talk to state officials about the possible placement of Jersey barriers to keep curiosity seekers away from the old Big Hill Store. Jersey barriers are modular concrete or plastic dividers that are frequently used to separate lanes of automobile traffic.

Kandy Jump, assistant to the commissioners, attested to the interest that some people seem to have in the dilapidated store. She told of watching while an older woman stopped and approached the store building and retrieved bricks from it. The building is now legally county property.

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney, who is from Fairfax, said he had intended for the county to address the situation with the old Big Hill Store by treating the entire building as an emergency situation.

“I thought we were doing the wall and the building,” McKinney said. Looking back at the language that the Board of Commissioners used in official documents, however, he acknowledged the county had treated the erection of a wall to protect the Robert Clark clinic as an official emergency, but had not classified the whole building in that way. The county is now soliciting bids to have the old Big Hill building razed.

McKinney also clarified that while the collapse of the roof of the old Big Hill building took place during the period when Fairfax and the rest of Osage County were beset by torrential rains and flooding, the acceleration of the decline of the Big Hill building is officially not being treated as part of the flood emergency and its aftermath.

Another attention-grabbing problem that commissioners are working to address is damage to Blackburn Road, more than one section of which was damaged during the flooding; and there could be more to come, McKinney said Monday — collapses and damage as yet unrealized that may take place in coming months as a result of the spring flooding.