The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and the Board of Commissioners met February 13th to discuss the Christ Episcopal Church Parish House on South Main Street. Last March the board voted unanimously to destroy the house at a cost of $11,000.
“I question why our commission was never informed of their decision to demolish the building,” Hall said. “The commission has held five meetings since the budget retreat in 2018 where the action was taken and we were never informed of that decision.” (Link)
During Wednesday’s meeting members of the HPC claim they were unaware the board voted to demolish the house. Pat Hall, chairman of the HPC, claims the commission never advocated tearing the building down despite growing pressure from the public. She also claims they weren’t notified of the board’s decision until early February of this year. (Links to agendas and minutes)
During the January 25, 2018 Board of Commissioners meeting, town manager Melissa Adams read a statement to the board. It sounds an awful lot like they were aware demolition was a strong possibility. Assuming they didn’t know the board voted to move forward with demolition, Commissioner Mike Mitchell is the liaison between the Board and the HPC. It would have been his responsibility to relay this information to them during one of those five meetings they’ve held since the decision was made.
Lisa Waring, member of the HPC and contributing writer for a local paper, has published a series of articles over the last few weeks about the joint meeting and the Parish House. In them, she implies town staff neglected the property and allowed it to deteriorate…
“The old historic building has become a matter of discussion because the property has deteriorated due to lack of preventative maintenance ever since it was accepted by the town.” (Link)
“Although monies were allocated and spent for required studies, inspections and construction plans to refurbish the building and bring it up to code, the museum project never happened. The building has been vacant ever since with little preventative maintenance.” (Link)
Pat hall echoed her sentiments…”I’m not saying there was no maintenance, there was some maintenance done to that building according to memos. Nevertheless, the major deterioration of the building, as it looks today, occurred within that two-year time frame.” Hall also lamented the town for not moving forward with a $200,000 contract for repairs and insisted the only maintenance issue the building initially had was minor termite damage in a bathroom.
Commissioner Legge was quick to jump on board, “I think some of the information on that building past years may have been withheld from the board as far as them knowing the condition of it.” He went on, “I’m not saying this staff, but in the past the leadership we had in that area kinda threw us in another direction.”
Legge also blamed the board for the continued delays in providing the necessary funds for repairs, “All of our focus has been on the golf course, the police or fire station, new roads and stuff like that.”
“Stuff like that” would be the basic infrastructure the town needs to continue operations.
Two years ago, the estimate to bring the house to code was near $200,000. That estimate didn’t include aesthetic changes or refurbishing to accommodate museum displays. Since then it’s been hit by two major hurricanes and a Buick. The roof leaks, there’s still termite damage, the foundation is cracked, the fireplace is unstable, an entire wall has collapsed, and there’s mold. A member of the HPC called me, twice, to tell me that. And it’s only fair to mention the staff wouldn’t have wasted time providing preventive maintenance to a house the board voted to demolish a year ago. And we have one of the finest administrative teams the town has ever known. It’s unconscionable for anyone to imply they misled the board…but it’s especially despicable that a board member would do so.
The Hope Mills Fire Chief recently condemned the building.
Amazingly enough, the board reversed their decision to demolish the Parish House and agreed to allow a credentialed expert to evaluate the building, in the hope that it might be salvaged. Until he surveys the damage, there’s no way of telling how extensive it is or what the repairs may cost tax payers. But the Historic Preservation Commission and some members of the board are determined to see it completed.
It won’t be easy. Commissioner Bellflowers opened the meeting with handouts which show the Hope Mills Historic Preservation Commission is NOT recognized by the state or national offices. Without credentials they can’t apply for grants from those organizations. Which means there was a great deal of conversation about community fundraisers.
The HPC claims the Parish House is on the National Registry of Historic Places, but it’s not. I searched every combination of names and streets in Hope Mills and it was not listed. And while it is 89 years old, it’s not even close to being the oldest building in town. The building where Countryside Furniture resides (3778 Main Street) is 128 years old. It was established by Joe Johnson as a General Store in 1891, the same year the town of Hope Mills incorporated. It stayed in his family for three generations before Charlie Biggs sold it to Alex Warner.
If the town manages to secure the funds to repair the Parish House, it has no purpose. After voting to demolish the Parish House a year ago, the town purchased a mill house on Trade Street to be the future museum. As recently as Monday plans were underway to move forward with that project.
But, the Trade Street museum isn’t without it’s own issues. Several years ago members of the Historic Preservation Commission were storing historic memorabilia in their homes because Town Hall didn’t have sufficient storage. Staff rented a storage unit and stocked it with tables, chairs, lamps and storage bins. HPC members were supposed to add their stored artifacts, organize them by era and create an inventory. That hasn’t happened. Mayor Warner recently tasked her Youth Council with creating an inventory of the storage unit, but Pat Hall was adamant it wasn’t necessary. She said the HPC has, or intends to purchase inventory software for that purpose. But she also said she and the other members of the commission don’t have time to conduct the inventory and don’t know how to use the software. She suggested town staff should be tasked with that job.
Eddie Dees, former Mayor of Hope Mills and a member of the HPC until his recent death, was an avid collector of town history. He published a book in 1991 about the history of the town and briefly negotiated with Arcadia Publishing to write a second book for their ‘Images of America’ series. Before his death, members of the HPC visited his home and removed large amounts of the collected history. But during the recent joint meeting, they made it clear the town may not get it.
Pat hall explained, “A lot of the stuff Mayor Dees rescued from the garbage bin in Hope Mills, recognizing it had historic value he kept it and saved it and put it in a room. Knowing what the town did with that historic stuff, he did not want to hand his historical stuff over to anyone to end up in a garbage bin. He gave that to Lisa and me….If and when we ever have a museum we will present it to the town.”
As members of the Historic Preservation Commission, they’re stewards of those artifacts, not owners. We were recently reminded that members of a town commission or committee serve at the pleasure of the board. They don’t have authority to dictate if and when they return historical town artifacts. Mayor Dees collected as a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, which means the artifacts he had technically belong to the town of Hope Mills…and the people of Hope Mills.
HPC member Jody Fraser said, “If you were to have a museum right now we would be able to populate it with a dozen items.”
I’ll leave you with these questions…
- How much is too much to spend repairing the Parish House?
2. Should members of the HPC return all historical items to Town Hall?
3. Attorney Hartzog made it clear a municipality doesn’t have the authority to establish a commission, there is no general statute recognizing the historic preservation group, and they’re not recognized by either state or federal agencies. Do we have a historic preservation commission or committee?