Irwin Block demolition scheduled to begin with firewall dismantling next week

Mike Wolanin | The Republic A view of the fire damaged Irwin Block building in Columbus, Ind., Monday, Jan. 9, 2022.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Workers are expected to begin tearing down the fire-damaged Irwin Block Building in downtown Columbus early next week.

Jimmy Arthur, an estimator and project manager at Casey-Bertram, told The Republic that the work will start on Monday, Jan. 23. The company will start by taking down the east firewall by hand, which should take about a week, and then move on to using heavier machinery to demolish the rest of the building.

The firewall prevented more serious damage from happening to the Greater Columbus Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce offices located in the 440 Fifth St. location, Columbus firefighters said after the fire.

Arthur said in a previous interview that the process of demolition and debris removal could take about six to eight weeks, depending on when the work begins.

“I think it’ll definitely be a slow process, just because obviously, we want to take the building down safely without damaging property or having anyone injured,” he said. “So obviously, having the wall there on the east side that’s kind of unsupported right now, we’ll be coming up with a plan of attack to get that down safely and then kind of go from there. It’ll turn into more of a traditional demo, top-down demo, using heavy machinery.”

It has been over a month since a massive fire destroyed the Irwin Block Building, resulting in a large portion of its third-story façade collapsing onto the sidewalk and street. The building, which is located on Fifth Street in downtown Columbus, is believed to be at risk of collapse.

Local and state investigators have ruled the cause of the Dec. 3 fire as “undetermined,” meaning that they were unable to find enough physical evidence or evidence obtained from witnesses that would indicate what caused the fire.

The Fifth Street block in front of the building, and the rear of the building that faces an alley have been fenced off since the fire occurred.

The Republic’s previous online report that demolition would begin today was based on an update from city attorney Alan Whitted. Whitted told Columbus Board of Works members that Arthur had indicated that the work would begin today. This had been communicated in an email exchange between Whitted and Arthur last week.