BELDING — A few old, rotting boards, several cracked and broken shingles and a skeleton-like casing of one of the original steeple windows of the Belding Bros. clock tower are all that remain today across the street from the sight of the iconic tower that stood for 110 years.
The image sitting in the Central Riverside Park parking lot has created mixed emotions from residents who are either in favor of seeing the structure finally removed from public view or saddened by the way it was disassembled.
According to Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore, an issue of blight and wording within the consent judgment between the city and Electrolux are what led to the original steeple and cupola, which had sat in the parking lot since May 17, to finally be disassembled on site.
“We as a city have been getting complaints regarding the blight situation in the parking lot,” Mullendore said.
Belding residents such as Jon Bunce, who heads the committee to rebuilt the clock tower, said he was disappointed in the way the structures were disassembled, essentially leaving them in ruin, but Mullendore said options were limited in the process.
“There’s no way we could have individually removed each piece, it wasn’t plausible because since they weren’t being reused, there was no reason to take care in doing that,” she said. “The intent was never to utilize (those structures) in the rebuild. Some of the elements would be incorporated, but the intent was to do a reproduction (of the clock tower).”
On July 29, Mullendore ordered employees of the Belding Department of Public Works to disassemble the two structures. The process took five workers, three men working 12 hours, one man working 10 hours and another working seven hours. No overtime pay was used in the process.
“With staff and equipment, it costs us just under $2,500 to do that,” Mullendore said.
Bunce said he doesn’t believe the structure was a blight issue and had hoped that a fence, estimated to cost around $500, could have been put up around the structures to keep them safe from vandals.
“Without stepping on any toes, that did not have to be done the way it was, a fence could have been put around it, but they said it was a blight issue,” Bunce said. “As long as those structures weren’t pulled apart the way they were, we could have reused it, but it is what it is.”
Mullendore said much of the confusion stems from residents believing the structures in their entirety were to be saved, but according to a consent judgment, both Electrolux and the city complied.
The judgment reads: “Electrolux shall use reasonable efforts to dismantle, preserve, donate and deliver to the city … the slate tile rooftop over the clock tower, the clock, the wood housing surrounding the clock and the materials immediately abutting such wooden housing … and the blocks/place-cards containing the ‘Belding Bros.’ inscription and the plaque showing the year built.
“The city acknowledges, however, that the tower clock is in poor condition, and therefore, it may not be practical for the tower clock and other materials to be dismantled in such a manner that they can be preserved or reused … the parties acknowledge that an environmentally suitable location for such reassembly or construction may not exist on the easement property.”
Mullendore said she believes the city had to act as it did.
“We are citing people all over town for blight in their yards, for obnoxious weeds, for brush on the curb, and all we are hearing back is, you’ve got a pile of junk sitting down in a municipal parking lot, why aren’t you citing yourself?,” she said. “It’s very hard for us as a governmental entity to live by ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ we must lead by example.”
According to Mullendore, the structures were placed in the parking lot due to a variety of issues.
“The decision to put them there stemmed from the fact of the height of the structures and total weight,” she said. “To put those in another area of town, which we looked at doing, we would have had to had consumers energy cut wires throughout town in order to transport the structures.”
According to Bunce, many items from the original tower have been saved, including 5,000 bricks, all decorative bricks that were around the clock facings, all the windows that were on the tower, half the slate tile from the rooftop, and the large metal structure that once held the bells within the tower.
Bunce said he is currently in talks with the television show “American Restoration,” which airs on the History Channel, to see if they will assist in restoring the four original clock facings that were saved.
He said he would like all four facings to be restored, as well as a fifth replica facing to be created, so when the tower is one day rebuilt, one of the original facings can be at ground level for visitors to observe.
Bunce said a committee of seven people has began drafting ideas and group bylaws, but nothing official has been decided as of yet. The group will have items available for sale to the public during the Belding Labor Day Festival, such as original bricks and slate rooftop pieces.
The group’s efforts can be followed at www.facebook.com/RebuildBeldingsClockTower.
“People want to see this clock tower rebuilt, it’s going to be rebuilt,” Bunce said.