As he planned out how to tear down the walls and roof of a former Whiteland grocery store, the supervisor of the demolition project knew what would be revealed inside.

When the south wall came down, Keystone Construction site superintendent Greg Sandlin could picture the entrance into Mr. D’s Supermarket, where he used to stock the shelves, bag cans and fresh produce and carry groceries out to customers’ cars.

For Sandlin, tearing down the highly visible property at Whiteland Road and U.S. 31 is about more than removing an eyesore that residents, motorists and officials have complained about for years. It’s a part of his history, since he worked there for about three years in the late 70s to early 80s.

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Sandlin has watched the building deteriorate over the years as a Whiteland resident. Although the property brings back memories, he is happy to see it being turned into something new.

“This is progress. And what’s going in here is going to be a wonderful addition to the town,” Sandlin said.

Demolition of the building that was once a farm implement business, drugstore and two grocery stores began Friday morning and will continue through next week, Sandlin said.

Bulldozing the building is the first step of transforming the 1.8-acre lot into a doctor’s office owned by Johnson Memorial Health, which purchased the property last year.

Whiteland residents have long complained about the vacant building, which has been empty since 2002. Weeds started poking up through the parking lot, boards were put up to cover windows and an awning became tattered and torn. But for years, the building wasn’t for sale until one of the former owners, Wabash College, sued then-co-owner, Carole Buck, to force a sale. The two parties reached a settlement to sell the building, and Allen Commercial Group bought it in 2013 at an auction.

In 2014, Allen Commercial Group did some work to the building, including painting the exterior, replacing rotted wood that was covering the entrance, securing the structure so people couldn’t break in and removing the tattered awning.

The development and leasing company talked to multiple businesses about moving into the existing structure, using part of the building or tearing it down altogether and building anew. Last year, a chain restaurant was considering buying the property, but the deal fell through.

Johnson Memorial Health officials have eyed the 1.8-acre lot for about a year. The health network wants to expand their reach throughout Johnson County, so residents outside of Franklin can have convenient locations for medical care, including in Greenwood and Whiteland, chief strategy officer Steve Jarosinski said.

The former grocery store lot was a prime location for their expansion efforts because Whiteland Road is a major route for motorists heading east or west through the county, and the building is less than a mile from Whiteland Community High School.

This summer, construction is set to begin a new structure that will eventually house at least two primary care physicians and other medical specialists, Jarosinski said.

Demolition of the building is starting a few months ahead of schedule. Sandlin also supervised the demolition of a former mattress store at 1000 U.S. 31 South in Greenwood. Johnson Memorial Health will be building a doctor’s office at the Greenwood property before Whiteland’s 24,000-square-foot office is done with construction.

But after the demolition of the Greenwood building was complete, Johnson Memorial wanted to keep the momentum going by tearing down the building at the Whiteland site as well, Jarosinski said.

“We thought it’d be really cool to go ahead and get it down ahead of time to continue to build the excitement,” Jarosinski said.

Even though the demolition is done ahead of time, hospital officials will stick to their original timeline for the Whiteland office, which is slated to open in November, Jarosinski said. Once the building is down, motorists will still see broken concrete in the former grocery store parking lot, Sandlin said. Crews will tear up the concrete when a new structure is built.

Architects are finalizing the interior design of the office space, and contractors will bid on the project in April or May, he said.

Want a brick as a memento?

The town of Whiteland is keeping bricks from the former grocery store being torn down. If you want to claim one of the bricks, here’s what to do:

How many bricks are available? About 100.

What do I do to claim a brick? Call the Whiteland town hall at 535-5531. The bricks will be given away to whoever calls first.

When should I pick it up? The bricks would not be available for pickup until about Wednesday.

Source: Whiteland town manager Norm Gabehart