It’s amazing how long an old, gigantic, brick manufacturing space managed to survive on Kokomo’s north end before it finally succumbed to the wrecking ball in 1993.
The Delco Plant 5, otherwise known as the North Plant, formerly known as Reliant Manufacturing’s “Prosperity” plant, sat on a triangle of land created by the Davis Road/Washington Street split.
Used for manufacturing for more than 70 years, the property has some environmental issues.
Those issues, documented by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, have been perhaps the main reason the property, now vacant land, hasn’t been redeveloped.
Apperson Brothers Automobile Co. constructed the building in 1915, using it until 1926. That year, it was taken over by Wolfe Bros., an outfit which made radio cabinets.
Reliant took possession in the late 1930s, making women’s clothes and then, during World War II, parachutes. It’s final incarnation was as an assembly site for GM Delco circuit boards from 1953 to 1991, according to a site prospectus compiled by the RACER Trust, the bankruptcy-created entity charged with cleaning up and marketing old General Motors “legacy” sites in 14 states.
By most accounts, the buildings on the site were already pretty well spooky and dilapidated midway through the Delco period, but back in the 1950s, Delco was a powerhouse in Kokomo. It hadn’t started to add any of the 1.2 million square feet of space the company would eventually build on U.S. 31. It just needed manufacturing space.
Now the property just needs some cleanup work.
The soil on the northern third of the plant site, maybe 6 to 10 feet deep, is contaminated with volatile organic chemicals like trichloroethylene, a carcinogenic solvent used to clean circuit boards before it was banned in the 1970s.
Engineer Bob Hare, RACER’s cleanup manager for sites in five states, will likely be on site next week, supervising some preliminary investigatory work ahead of an expected spring 2014 cleanup.
The plan right now is to excavate contaminated soil, mix it with lime, and allow the heating action of the lime to disperse the chemicals, Hare said.
In addition, they’re considering injecting oxidizing chemicals even deeper into the ground to break up contaminants in the groundwater.
Any remedies, Hare said, would be subject to EPA approval of a specific cleanup plan.
“No. 1, we want to clean up soils to prevent anyone from coming into contact with the contaminants in the future,” Hare said. “Second, we want to clean it up to the point where rainwater that lands on the site isn’t going to pass through and contaminate the groundwater.”
RACER has about $7 million from the government-backed bankruptcy settlement to spend specifically on the Plant 5 cleanup, and Hare said that should be enough to clean the property up to an industrial standard.
GM had a large footprint in Indiana, the Midwest and even to the east. RACER is in charge of legacy sites in 89 locations, with about two-thirds of the properties in need of some environmental remediation.
The trust has had some success marketing properties: So far, they’ve sold 30 properties for about $30 million, according to Patricia Spitzley, a deputy redevelopment manager with RACER.
One of their biggest redevelopment projects is in Indianapolis at the old GM Stamping Plant. The city of Indianapolis is interested in making the site, which sits on the west side of the White River across from Lucas Oil Stadium, into an extension of the downtown.
RACER is collecting proposals from interested parties, and will make the ultimate decision — with Indianapolis’ input — which proposal is selected.
Hare promises similar local input will be weighed when considering any offers for the Plant 5 site, once it’s cleaned.
“It’s our mission to figure out the best use for this property, and I think it’s going to require some forward thinking, and some out-of-the-box thinking,” Spitzley said in a July interview. “It may not be to a facility that’s going to bring a lot of jobs, but there is some potential there.”
In other words, they’re not going to simply give the property away, once it’s cleaned up.
“We’re not under any timeline to sell this property,” she said.
If there’s a drawback, it’s that the Delco site sits next to the former Midwest Plating site, which occupies the southern point of the land triangle.
Midwest Plating is also an environmental brownfield site, and will not be cleaned up as part of the Delco cleanup.
“I don’t think it’s going to have much of an impact; I’m sure there are some issues associated with it,” Hare said.
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.