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Termites force demolition of historic building

Woman's Club of Jacksonville building in Riverside overrun by pests

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A nearly century-old building in Riverside may soon be demolished after termites took over.

The infestation was discovered inside the Woman's Club of Jacksonville building owned by the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Since its purchase in 2005, the Cummer Museum invested $7 million for the property and exterior renovations.

But the historic building covered in brick can't be restored.

The real issue lies within.

The building was constructed of wood from the ceiling to the basement, and that wood is so old that it won't absorb any chemical termite treatment, and the pest problem has gotten out of hand.

Built in 1927, the Women's Club of Jacksonville building hosted many special events and created lifelong memories, Cummer officials said.

"Weddings, people's proms, first kisses, dances, a lot of our major donors grew up and had major life moments in this building,” said Hope McMath, director of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.

The Cummer Museum's renovations of the building were halted in 2008 when the economy collapsed. The museum continued annual maintenance and inspections of the building, but last year, a termite infestation was discovered.

"We were concerned and surprised right away, but we thought like so many people do, OK, we've got termites. All we need to do is tent the building and kill them and move on,” McMath said.

But they weren't the average termites. They were Formosan subterranean termites that have been eating away at the building for some time with colonies in four of the Cummer's oak trees.

George Richardson, who works for Peninsular Pest Control, is very familiar with the aggressive species.

"(They are) more voracious, more active and more damaging than our native subterranean termites,” Richardson said. "We have seen an increase in activity of Formosan termites, especially in the Riverside area, where the Cummer building is located."

Richardson said there are ways to battle the creepy crawlers, but McMath said the museum has tried everything from chemical treatments to bug extermination to structural fixes.

"We worked with architects, engineers, scientists from LSU, scientists from the University of Florida to try to help us understand how we can cobble together a solution for a building whose architecture is very complicated when it comes to protecting it,” McMath said.

Eight months and a $250,000 later, the only conclusion is to tear it down.

"The decision has been long and arduous, and we do not take it lightly,” McMath said.

A demolition permit must be approved first by the historic commission. The Cummer said it plans to build a new structure in the building's place.