WAYNE — Village residents have been without a local post office since August because of the extremely poor condition of the building in which it was housed, and some are saying the closure is starting to affect business. An attorney handling the estate that owns the building says progress is being made to restore the building to an acceptable condition.
The building that housed the post office is owned by the estate of Beryl and Joan Stewart, and Wayne Fiscal Officer Melissa Repasz said that building is now tied up in probate proceedings. The Stewarts died in 2013.
“We’ve been directing people (with complaints) to the estate office and the (United States) post office,” she said.
David Van Allen of the United States Postal Service’s corporate communications division said complaints received by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about the air quality in the building led to an in-depth USPS safety and health investigation. The leased building was found to have a gas leak, vermin infestation and “significant” levels of airborne mold.
“In accordance with OSHA and USPS regulations intended to safeguard the health and safety of customers and employees, the Postal Service temporarily suspended operations at the Wayne Post Office on August 1, 2016,” an email from Van Allen read.
He said people with post office boxes at the Wayne Post Office were notified of the situation and given alternatives for obtaining USPS retail services and their mail — including driving to the post office in Bradner. Bradner’s post office is at 101 Crocker St., which is about 2.5 miles away from Wayne’s closed post office at 101 W. Main St.
Van Allen said the owner of the property is researching options for abating the health issues.
“When the issues are abated, the Wayne Post Office will reopen at its current location,” Van Allen said.
If the building is not brought back to an acceptable condition, the USPS will start the process of finding a new location in the community for the Wayne Post Office, Van Allen said. If that is the case, he said, a community meeting would be scheduled to explain USPS plans and to ask the community for feedback.
Middleton Law Offices in Bowling Green is handling the Stewart estate. Typically in a probate case, the executor (where there’s a will) or administrator (where there’s no will) would be responsible for a building. Upkeep is generally paid out of funds in the estate, such as money from the bank account of the deceased.
Attorney Staten Middleton said progress is being made on the building.
“We’ve been working on it pretty constantly. A contractor has been engaged to give an estimate (on repairs). If it’s not too much, we are hoping to make the repairs and get it open in four weeks. (The contractor) said he would provide the estimate this afternoon,” Middleton said Wednesday.
In the meantime, the attorney said he will place a notice put on the Bradner Post Office bulletin board with an explanation of what’s going on and a link to a website with an in-depth explanation. The website is www.bgohiolaw.com/wayne-post-office-stewart-estates/
He said an inspection report indicates there is not black mold in the building, which would have increased rehabilitation costs significantly.
“If there was (black mold), the cost would have been up $200,000. That wouldn’t have been within the means of the estate.”
Other options were considered for keeping postal service in Wayne, he said, including a temporary location in another building owned by the Stewarts or a rented trailer. With the report of no black mold, however, he said focus will be on fixing the old building and returning service there.
The exact cause of what was sickening some patrons and workers was not known by Middleton, though he said different theories were explored, including the possibility of a sewer or natural gas leak. The building did turn out to have a natural gas leak, which was fixed.
Middleton said post office service wouldn’t return until the USPS conducted its own inspection.
“We got that inspection about 10 days ago,” Middleton said. “Since then we’ve been looking as what the issues are and if we can correct them.”
“We expected that one of the issues would be the removal of items from an adjacent building. The things in there were damaged by the 1995 fire. The Stewarts tore down one of the buildings after the fire and apparently it was cost prohibitive to tear down the (other) building, so they left it as it was with the stuff inside,” Middleton said. “That created a potential source of problems. With that in mind, we hired people to remove that junk. That removal should be completed this week.”
In what would be likely a worst-case scenario, Middleton said the estate could choose under Ohio law a process called abandonment. If a property is determined to not be beneficial to the estate, the estate could walk away from it.
“Thankfully, I don’t think we have to pursue that option. I’d rather definitely not do that, but I do have a fiduciary duty to do what’s in the best interest of the estate. I’m hopeful that the estimate will come back with a realistic number and we’ll go from there.”
Jeanette Heinze, owner of Heinze Insurance Agency in Wayne, says not having the local post office open has negatively affected her business.
“It is a big disservice. The business people have gotten together. We go to Bradner to get each other’s mail. We still mail in the outgoing (box) but you still can’t buy stamps or mail a package. For that you drive to Bradner. People aren’t getting invoices; things are all mixed up,” she said.
She is finding ways around not having her local post office open, but they are not as convenient. The business owner says she uses FedEx or UPS when she can.
“I try to mail very little. Anything I can do by fax or email, I do, but some things you have to do by mail,” she said.
Heinze also acknowledged the poor condition of the building and expressed concern about potential hazards.
“Beryl and his wife attended many auctions and garage sales. Every building they own in Wayne, they are full of boxes of stuff. In my opinion, that creates a fire hazard,” Heinze said. “As townspeople, we’ve lived with this for years. They had a major fire in the city block a few years back — water was used — and nothing hardly was removed (from the building after the fire). ... You don’t have to know anything; you just need to walk by and see what’s inside.”
Heinze said the smell was horrible in the post office and customers complained. Complaints were lodged to OSHA, which then led to the USPS safety and health investigation.
Barbara Potter, postmaster at the Bradner Post Office, posted the notice on the door of the Wayne facility, which is dated Aug. 1 and notes “due to building safety concerns” the office would be temporarily closed and mail could be picked up at the Bradner facility during its operating hours.
“We are hoping we’re only looking at another four to six weeks, but it could be two months,” Potter said Tuesday. She said she anticipates service returning to Wayne once all the deficiencies are corrected.
Leah Keyes, a clerk at Bradner’s post office, said she’s seen an influx of people from Wayne who have come in to get mail. She estimated the closure of Wayne’s post office has resulted in about double the number of people that come into Bradner.
Rural carriers are still delivering mail to residences, but delivery is said to be coming much later than usual. The mail for Wayne is sorted in Pemberville.
“We’ve got about 300 Wayne post office boxes” in addition to about 300 boxes for Bradner, Potter said. “We are trying to get rotary boxes by the end of the week for 24-hour access to mail,” she said. Potter acknowledged that it can be difficult for some people to get to Bradner during business hours.
“Our upper management has been very supportive during all of this,” Potter said.
“Everybody has been somewhat understanding. We’re doing our best to make sure the mail is getting out.”