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Vernay to demolish building

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After sitting idle and mostly empty for the past four years, the Vernay Laboratories Dayton Street facility is set for demolition in mid-December. And thanks to the company and retired employee Joe Ayres, the Village now has a slightly used emergency power generator to serve the local wellfield and the wastewater plant in the case of a power outage. The generator, whose purpose was to supply the manufacturing plant with emergency power, was transported to the wastewater plant property last week to await installation.

Since 2004, when Vernay moved its North American production operations to Georgia and closed its manufacturing plant at the corner of Dayton Street and East Enon Road, the 110,000-square-foot facility has sat empty. According to Frank Wells, who is Vernay’s CFO and vice president, the empty building was costing the company in excess of $100,000 a year in expenses including heating, utilities, insurance and taxes. And though several potential buyers have looked at the plant, which was built in 1958, most manufacturers prefer an open workspace in favor of the Dayton Street plant’s sectioned space, Wells said.

The building’s sale is also complicated by the company’s ongoing cleanup of groundwater contamination, which was mandated in 2002 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA.

Wells has shared a seat in the office of the president with two of the company’s general managers, Gregg Gearhardt (North American operations) and Guido Pavanetto (Vernay Europa), since former president and CEO Tom Allen retired last year. Allen had been with the company since 1987 and had served as president since 1994. According to Wells, the tripartite presidential office was established by the company’s board of directors as an interim measure until a new president could be appointed.

Since the plant closed, Vernay has sold as much equipment as it could and emptied the building of materials and equipment that could be used at its other plants. As part of the agreement with the demolition company, the internal copper, aluminum and steel will be sold as scrap metal. The generator would have been removed for scrap as well, had it not been for Ayres’ connection.

Ayres, who retired from Vernay in 2003 after 25 years with the company, has maintained the generator since Vernay bought it just after the blizzard of 1978, when people were stranded at the plant for days. The generator was to be a backup power source just to heat the building and keep the pipes from freezing, Ayres said. But it was never really used, except to be run to keep it operational every few weeks.

So when the Village agreed after the August wind storm and the ensuing power outage that it could use backup power for the wastewater and water plants, Ayres spent a day repairing the generator and bringing it up to speed. Then Vernay used its contracted maintenance crew to move the 3-phase, 480-volt, 200-amp machine from Dayton Street to a Village trailer, where Village Water and Wastewater Superintendent Joe Bates was waiting for it. The generator would have cost between $20,000 and $50,000 new, Bates estimated, and the help transporting it reduced the moving cost from $3,500 down to $800.

“The whole thing went really well, and it’s all because of Joe Ayres, without whom this wouldn’t have happened,” Bates said.

Wells is pleased that Vernay could be of service to the village.

“We’re happy that we can help out — the generator would have been part of the salvage,” he said. “We hope the Village can get some use out of it.”

Beginning in 2009, the 13-acre property on Dayton Street will house just a tiny prefab out building toward the back of the lot for testing equipment used in Vernay’s contamination cleanup. Since 2002, the company has conducted an extensive analysis of the character and extent of contamination on the property. Contamination has been found as low as the Cedarville Aquifer (20 to 100 feet below ground surface) and as far east of the property as Wright Street.

The contamination, found in area wells in the late 1990s, was linked to past disposal practices at Vernay’s. A lawsuit by neighbors that was settled in 2002 included the stipulation that Vernay enter into an oversight arrangement with the EPA for cleanup.

According to Vernay’s Environmental Affairs and Safety Manager Doug Fisher, taking down the buildings will not affect the groundwater remediation, and the company will continue to submit quarterly reports to the EPA regarding its findings in the sampling wells on and off of its property.

While the vacant property is ostensibly still for sale, Wells said that until the company reaches agreement with the EPA on the action plan for cleanup, it is difficult to know exactly what the demands on the property will be. According to EPA Project Coordinator Bob Egan, the EPA and Vernay are scheduled to draft a corrective measures proposal for public review by the end of the summer 2009.

The Dayton Street facilities closed after Vernay moved its production force, which once numbered about 200, to two plants in Georgia and a small facility in South Carolina, citing shifting markets and the demands of the contamination cleanup in Yellow Springs. The company continues to maintain its headquarters at the facility on East South College Street, where it currently employs 25 to 30 corporate, laboratory, inside sales, IT and accountant employees, Well said.

Vernay’s was incorporated in 1946 by its founder, Sergius Vernay, who began his company in the basement of the Science Building of Antioch College in the mid-1930s. The inventor of the Vernatherm thermostat, Sergius Vernay had been lured to Antioch from Philadelphia by then-Antioch College president Arthur Morgan, according to 200 Years of Yellow Springs.


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