Elkins Launches Online Dilapidated Structures Dashboard

Elkins, W. Va., May 25, 2021: The City of Elkins Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Department has launched a public online tool for exploring data about dilapidated structures in Elkins.

The new Dilapidated Structures Dashboard presents the address and map location, condition, and status of properties that have been evaluated by the city building inspector for violations of the property maintenance code.

“The building inspector uses a structure evaluation survey to determine the severity of a structure’s condition,” says Ben Martin, the city’s GIS technician. The survey is based on a tool created by West Virginia University’s BAD Buildings Program. “These evaluations basically help to determine whether the city should seek repair or demolition of the structure.”

On the dashboard map’s Structure Status tab, users can click on a property on the map and see a range of information, including the structure’s address, survey date, evaluated condition, and—if demolished—the date of the demolition and any cost to city taxpayers.

“The Structure Status tab is meant to communicate progress, whether toward demolition or toward convincing the property owner to address the building inspector’s concerns,” says Martin. “The Structure Status tab shows what a lengthy and costly process it can be to get a structure demolished, whether by acquiring the property or seeking a court order forcing action by the owner.”

In addition to providing the cost of each individual demolition, the dashboard presents a running total of demolition expenses incurred by the city and the average cost of demolishing a property, currently $134,653and $17,873, respectively.

“When spending public funds, it’s important to look at how much it costs to achieve policy objectives, like dealing with unsafe buildings,” says Martin. “We wanted the demolition costs front and center so users can easily see how much this kind of neglect is costing all of us.”

Another feature charts the location of the owners of dilapidated structures. According to this feature, only 55 percent of listed structures are owned by Elkins residents, with 32 percent owned by a single resident of Lake City, Florida.

“Ownership location data is also important to display because the farther away property owners live, the harder it can be to motivate them to address the issues with their buildings,” Martin explains. “This is good information for users to have so they can understand why the process of dealing with one structure might take a long time compared to others.”

The dashboard began as a grant-funded project managed by the West Virginia Region VII Planning & Development Council, which shifted the project to Martin after his hire by City of Elkins earlier this year. Optimized for use on desktop computers, the dashboard does not currently support use on mobile devices, although this capability is planned for a future update.

The Dilapidated Structures Dashboard may be accessed here: www.bit.ly/Elkins-Dilap-Dashboard.

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Elkins Announces New GIS Department

Elkins, W. Va., March 31, 2021: The establishment of a new department within the Elkins city government will enable City of Elkins to take even better advantage of modern digital tools and techniques for analyzing and presenting important data. Ben Martin, formerly an AmeriCorps member working with Elkins Main Street, has been hired as the city’s first Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technician and the sole member of the city’s new GIS Department.

The term GIS refers to specialized hardware, software, and personnel organized for the purpose of gathering, managing, and analyzing data with geospatial components. Most associated with the field of geography, GIS combines non-spatial data, such as demographics, records, or other details, with a spatial component, such as an address, coordinate, or boundary. Adding a spatial component to data allows GIS technicians to perform a range of analyses to better understand how data is related, where those relationships exist in the world around us, and what insights can be obtained from these relationships.

“While GIS tools help collect and discover new insights into data, GIS is most well-known for the ability to produce maps, and for good reason,” said Martin. “Without accurate, easily understood maps, the most profound insights from data won’t be visible to the end user. A lot of the efficiencies from GIS in local government come from being able to share information effectively with the public, elected officials, and city employees, and maps are a great tool for doing so.”

Indeed, one of the first priorities for the new department will involve mapping, specifically to capture the huge amount of infrastructure information that is currently recorded only on old paper maps and in the heads of longtime city employees.

“Right now, we have to rely more than we want to on human memory when it comes to locating key pieces of underground infrastructure,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager. “It will be a big step forward to be able to start systematically mapping all of that so that all city departments can access the information.”

The GIS technician will also collect data on new infrastructure components, such as the replacement remote-read water meters currently being installed citywide, as they go into the ground.

“The value of having every one of these water meters in a GIS database is not just being able to see them on a map and locate them more easily in the field, it’s being able to easily access information about each one, like its installation date, maintenance history, and other details that can save our crews time troubleshooting problems or making maintenance decisions,” Pingley says. “That’s just one of many examples of how GIS can help us by centralizing information in one easy-to-access place.”

Other high-priority projects for the GIS Department include managing the public-facing dilapidated properties dashboard that will come online during 2021 and coordinating sharing city address information with county E911 and addressing officials. GIS solutions can also help improve interdepartmental data sharing, support timesaving use of mobile devices in the field and enable streamlined communication between citizens and government officials.

Martin has already begun deploying GIS applications on the city’s GIS homepage (coewv.maps.arcgis.com).

“As quick demo projects, we’ve put up apps for exploring results from the 2019 and 2021 city elections, as well as a dashboard to help city residents figure out what ward they’re in for Spring Cleanup,” says Martin. “These are just simple first steps, but they give a taste of what GIS can do for Elkins. I’m really excited about building out these offerings and seeing what Elkins can accomplish with GIS tools.”

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