The Demolition of Villa Francine; Opa-locka United with U.S. Military

By Christina Gordon….

The Villa Francine demolition project on Friday, December 3, 2010, Public Works Director Daniel Abia, Commissioner Rose Tydus, Commissioner Timothy Holmes, Vice Mayor Dorothy “Dottie” Johnson and LTC. William Schaper of the USAR.

In a concerted effort to bring resolution to resident concerns about the incomplete structures left by the developer of Villa Francine Condominiums, The City of Opa-locka and the 766th Engineer Company of the United States Army united in a demolition project to remove the unsafe building structures on the Northwest corner of 27th Avenue and 132nd Street, during a three day military training opportunity from Friday through Sunday, December 3-5, 2010.

The demolition project was conducted by the City of Opa-locka and the 766th Engineer Company whose higher headquarters is the 841st Engineer Battalion in Miami, FL, which consistently seeks local training opportunities for their units to support.  In removing the structures, which adjacent neighbors complained were an eye-sore and a haven for vagrancy, varmints, stragglers, over-grown vegetation, unsightliness, illegal activity, safety issues and just a plain nuisance to the community, the demolition project provided an excellent opportunity to the army soldiers because the mission (aside from construction and project management training benefits) allowed the soldiers to simulate operations in an urban environment, while working with local governments and continuing Full Spectrum Operation (FSO) training. Both the city and the neighborhood also benefited, due to the elimination of fire and windstorm hazards, as well as the danger to human life and public welfare, which the property (in its previous condition) could have presented. The City approached the battalion earlier this year in regard to their training, and the battalion was eager to join forces for the assignment.

During the operation, using two Hydraulic Excavators, one D7 Dozer, and approximately six 20 ton dump trucks, soldiers operated under the rules and applicable laws of local government, which simulates the Contemporary Operating Environment (COE) overseas. According to 1st Lt. Thomas Nettles, Company Commander “One of the benefits for the soldiers is the hands-on functional experience it gives them to work and provide services under someone else’s rules and territory; especially dealing with non-military entities.”  This is an exercise which allowed the soldiers and leaders to practice adjusting to the cultural environment of others; an application they need apply to winning the hearts and minds of people overseas.

The Villa Francine demolition project included the elimination of buildings #1-4, two of which were left incomplete by developers with foundation slabs and no columns or beams when construction was ceased five years ago; the other two were two-story buildings. There was structure deterioration caused by the continuous exposure to the weather (since no roofs were installed), collapsed decks due to the load imposed by material/blocks that were originally stored on the 2nd floors, water damage to the wood and other conditions that existed throughout these buildings; determining them unsafe and hazardous as constituted by the Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structure Board.

The City of Opa-locka and the military had the foresight, and took the initiative to press forward with the job. After the demolition, the Army was also responsible for transferring the debris on the final day, from the demolition site to the dump. The cost to the city to eradicate the structures at the northwest corner of 27th Avenue and 132nd Street was just the price of fuel and the tipping fee, totaling about $2,000 for a job that would have cost approximately $14,000.

In a follow-up email from the new commander of the 766th Engineer Company, 1LT Jamie Timming, to the City of Opa-locka’s Public Works and Utility Director Esin Daniel Abia, the operation was considered a major success for training the soldiers. Timming also stated that after clearance is obtained, he is looking to schedule the unit to return to Opa-locka on the on weekend of January 21-23, to demolish the remaining pink buildings and remove any other debris.

Residents in the area were pleased to finally see the unsafe buildings of Villa Francine eliminated.

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