The Parish House

The quotes I’ve provided are all from the official minutes of the Board of Commissioner’s meetings.  They can be found on the Town of Hope Mills website here.  Simply search for the dates I provided and download the PDF to read it in it’s entirety.  And remember, the minutes are an official account of the meetings, authenticated by the Board who votes on their authenticity.

During the December 16th board meeting, the Commissioners discussed the future of the Parish House.  The board did NOT vote to demolish the building, but they did request estimates for demolition be provided at the January 6 meeting.

Within days Facebook was bombarded with a flurry of posts by former commissioner Larson and various members of the Historic Preservation Commission.  Their posts were misleading and left the public angry…and confused. Commenters asked why the town would destroy a church and why they weren’t going to let us have a museum??!!

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To clarify…

The town owns three different properties – The mill house, located at 5554 Trade Street, designated for the future Hope Mills Museum.   The Parish House at 3711 S. Main Street.  It was designated for a museum until a year ago.  The Episcopal Church, now renamed the Thomas Campbell Oakman Chapel at 3715 S. Main Street.  The only building the board is considering demolishing is the Parish House.

The Parish House and the Chapel were donated to the town several years ago by the Episcopal Diocese.  After the town accepted the donation, they were told there was a reverter clause associated with the Chapel.  When the church stopped being used as a church, the land reverted back to the heirs of the man who originally donated it to the church. 

The beginning of the end –

July 10, 2017 – The Board of Commissioners met with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to get an update from Gordon Johnson, of Gordon Johnson Architecture, on the status of the museum project. 

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“Gordon Johnson Architecture is addressing concerns the Inspections office has with the revised plans that have to do with continued deterioration of the building as well as floor loading/sagging issues.”

“Commissioner Marley prefaced that he’d like to preserve history but inquired if finding
a building or property in the same area would be less costly to convert into a museum. Mr. Johnson replied it would be wise for the Town to look into other options before investing a large amount of money into the current property as there are many issues and restrictions with said property.”

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Pat Hall commented the Town should wait to move forward with the project until the church and heirs have settled and build new at the current location.”

This is important for two reasons – Pat Hall was the longtime Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission.  Here we have her advising the town to wait to move forward with the Parish House until the ownership of the Church has been settled.  That issue wasn’t settled until summer 2019 when the town agreed to dedicate the building to the man who donated the property. 

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October 9, 2017“Mayor Pro Tem Gorman reported Deputy Public Works Director Don Sisko and Fire Marshal Brett Ham attended the last Historic Preservation Commission meeting to share the condition of the Parish House on South Main Street and discuss a possible museum site on Trade Street.”

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This was the moment the HPC heard definitively the Parish House was NOT viable and began discussing the idea of buying the mill house on Trade Street to use as a museum instead. 

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November 20, 2017 –  From the manager’s Report, item #7 Old Mill House – The Town has closed on a property at a cost of $50,781.00 located at 5554 Trade Street which will be the site of Hope Mills’ future museum.

#8 Historic Preservation Commission Minutes – The Historic Preservation
Commission requested Town Manager Adams report on the minutes of their last
meeting. In short, the Committee made the following three motions at the end of
their meeting: To adopt the Secretary of Interior Standard, Use Roberts Rules of
Order and for the Board not entertain any further movement on Parish House.

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The Historic Preservation Commission changed the name of their Facebook page, but this is the post they published that night more than 2 years ago.  They say very clearly the Parish House has deteriorated to the point that it would require “hundreds of thousands of dollars just to bring it up to code”.  They also seem very excited to have received the mill house and are looking forward to using it as a museum.

And above that we see the HPC actually requested the town manager report they voted the “board not entertain any further movement o the parish House.” 

January 25, 2018 Manager’s report item 1# “The Historic Preservation Commission has advised the Town not to sell the property and if they were to demolish the home they could use the lot for parking.”

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March 3, 2018 – The Board discussed parish hall at the Budget retreat…

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Finance Director Holland commented restoration of the Parrish House is not an option as it is too costly due to termite damage. Therefore the Town suggests we raze the structure and use the property for public parking. The estimate to demolish the house is $11,000.  Town Manager Adams commented we may development some form of a shared parking
agreement with Dr. Raynor as he has expressed interest in the past, which would give us an easement option.

Motion made by Mayor Pro Tem Mitchell, seconded by Commissioner Bellflowers and carried unanimously, to budget for the demolition of the Parrish House and engineering fees for the design of the parking lot in the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year Budget and allow the Town Manager to begin discussions with Dr. Raynor.

This is the last real discussion of the Parish House until 2019.  Not only did the board of commissioners vote unanimously to demolish the building, they directed town manager Melissa Adams to begin discussions with Dr. Raynor about building a shared parking space in its place.  We’ll address this later.  And not only did former Commissioner Mitchell make the motion to demolish the Parish house, but former Commissioner Larson voted to approve it. 

2019 – Things get murky.

February 11 – the Board held a joint meeting with the HPC.  Pat Hall addresses both groups.  She reminds them they had a contract for reconstruction in place less than two years ago.  “It was put on hold for various reasons – because of storm-water projects, then we had a couple of storms, then there was a problem with the reverter clause on the church.  I’m not saying there was no maintenance, there was some maintenance done according to memos and updates at town board meetings.  Never the less, the majority of deterioration of the building as it looks today occurred during that time frame, during that two year time frame….due to a lack of care to that building.”

That would mean the ‘majority of the deterioration’ occurred between July 2017 when she directed the board to delay all action on the Parish House, through November when the HPC directed the board to no longer entertain further movement on the Parish House, then continued beyond March 2018 when the Board of Commissioners voted to demolish the Parish House and finally…concluded in February 2019 when Pat Hall and members of the HPC suddenly and inexplicably decided they wanted the Parish House! 

She briefly mentioned the storms…that would be Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.  She didn’t mention the Parish House was hit by a car just a few weeks before the meeting. 

It sounds very much like the Historic Preservation Commission is 100% responsible for the Parish House being in the dilapidated condition it’s currently in.  The staff and the board followed their direction until it became evident the house was no longer viable. 

20:00 into the video Pat Hall changes tactics and announces the Parish House is an artifact and the HPC has ‘never advocated tearing that building down.” 

But they did…

“The Historic Preservation Commission has advised the Town not to sell the property and if they were to demolish the home they could use the lot for parking.”

Hall goes on to say the HPC has faced undo pressure from staff who presented them with an old termite inspection from 2012.  She even says the board based their decision to demolish the building on the 2012 termite inspection when there was no evidence of  new damage. 

But…just minutes before that she blamed the staff for not performing preventive maintenance which led to the ‘majority of the deterioration as it looks today’ and said that damage occurred during the last two years.

That video goes on for another 40 minutes.  The members of the HPC literally claim they weren’t notified the board voted to demolish the house…which is untrue.  They also discuss the age of the Parish House and claim it’s 89 years old…possibly not true.  Link to previous article.

April 15, 2019 – Mason Steele, a member of the HPC, addressed the Board.  He declared the parish House was actually built in 1910 and was 109 years old!  That means the Parish House aged 30 years in roughly 60 days.  That’s faster than dog years!   He addressed the 1916 fire which burned the second floor of the Parish House. And he mentions the pre-purchase inspection from 2013.  Three times he refers to the defects as ‘minor’. 

The defects included plumbing and electrical work, roof repairs, termite repairs, post & column repairs, HVAC replacement, asbestos cleanup and lead paint cleanup.  Just to name a few!  And remember, he’s quoting an inspection that’s six years old!  The building has been hit with two hurricanes and a Buick since then.  Mason has called me numerous time to lobby for the Parish House and claims it simply needs  bit of elbow grease.

The professional engineer the town hired…disagrees.  His assessment was the foundation needs to be stabilized before any work can be done.  In fact, the building is so dangerous the fire department was legally required to post notices on three entry points as a warning to fire and rescue personnel.  The foundation work is estimated at $140,000.

The remaining work will cost the town over $200,000!  And to be clear, the engineer stressed his estimates are a starting point based on a visual inspection.  A contractor will perform more in-depth inspections and their estimates could be quite a bit higher. 

Mason referenced the money the town set aside for the museum.  The town did set money aside for a museum.  And it was originally earmarked for the Parish House.  BUT…the HPC agreed to put the museum in the house on Trade Street.  That house was purchased and the money was used for renovations there.  Some money was left over and it was returned to the general fund.  Despite this, several members of the HPC have referenced that money and assumed it was available for renovations on the Parish House. 

By now it should be evident there is a LOT of misinformation being put out to the public and that it’s simply an attempt to pit the public against the new board and against Mayor Warner. 

Larson has implied Warner was part of a secret scheme to sell the Parish House to Dr. Raynor several years ago.  It’s not true.  Years ago Larson complained to me that former town manager John Ellis was attempting to sell the Parish House to Raynor.

Raynor made an offer to buy the house around 2014.  He contacted Ellis and they discussed the offer.  Ellis told Warner who instructed him to tell Pat Hall.  Hall was opposed to the idea, even when Raynor offered to buy the house and move it to the other side of the Church. 

If they truly believed Warner was part of a diabolical plot…why did they continue to support her for another four years?  And they did support her.  I stood side by side with Larson and stumped for Warner more than a year after Raynor’s offer, and Warner was a respected member of the Chatter group run by Larson’s good friend Lisa Waring…who is also a member of the HPC…until July 2018 when she was removed for having the audacity to support LSF. 

The truth is, members of the HPC have always wavered in their support of protecting Hope Mills’ historic land marks.  The historic district they identified, with Pat Hall in the lead, very clearly omitted a lot of historic properties.  Some of the oldest buildings in town were omitted…like Pat Hall’s house.

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This is from the Cumberland County Tax Records.  It indicates Pat Hall, the long time Chairman of the Historic Preservation Committee and the creator of Hope Mills’ historic district, owns a house on Main Street built in 1900.  This property was NOT included in the historic district.  But why???

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This screen shot is from Loopnet.  It indicates Hall’s property is available for sale, not as historic property that should be restored, but as commercial property.  Asking price…half a million dollars. 

I don’t know what changed between March 2018 and February 2019.  I don’t know why members of the HPC and their followers are willing to lie and slander our elected to save the Parish House.    I do know the Chairman of the HPC identified the historic district to exclude her own historic property which she’s trying to sell, and they recently turned a blind eye to the quick demolition of several historic homes on Main Street.  There’s no continuity to their endeavors to preserve Hope Mills’ history.  But there IS continuity in their endeavors to discredit Warner and intimidate the elected.

So we’re left with one burning question…is the Parish House worth $350,000?

Whether the Parish House is 89 years old or 109…may not be relevant.  After the fire in 1916 the second floor was rebuilt.  Later a bathroom and kitchen were added, and later still the front porch was added.  From an architectural perspective maybe 30% of the building is original.

And the argument for sentimental value seems to be invalid.  Earl Vaughan, the writer for Up & Coming who covers Hope Mills news,  reached out to a local Episcopal church where members of the old Christ Episcopal attended after they gave the church and parish hall to the town.  He asked someone from the new church to forward an email to the former Hope Mills church members and asked if the Parish Hall should be saved for history.  Not one member responded.

No one famous slept there.  It wasn’t the site of a Civil war battle.  The architecture isn’t particularly innovative and most of it’s not original.  It was simply the home of several small town preachers who preached to the mill workers.  Then, it was a day care and occasional reception hall.

The Parish House was a non-descript part of the Hope Mills landscape for a long time.  Until February, no one thought about it.  Now, sadly, it’s claim to fame will either be the exorbitant price for reconstruction…or the undignified behavior of the small faction of our community who are trying to save it.  Interestingly, with all of the chatter going on about the Parish House I haven’t seen one person offer to donate money to the cause.

They’re outraged, but not so outraged they’re wiling to pay for the reconstruction themselves.

And what happens if we do restore it?  Nothing.  The town has no use for it.  The museum will be on Trade Street.  The staff is steadily moving forward with that project.  And the Thomas Campbell Oakman Chapel will be available to rent for special occasions and meetings.  So we’ll have a half million dollar building with no real purpose.  Then, the former members of the HPC….did I mention nearly all of them recently resigned…will argue over what we should use it for.

If we demolish this building it makes room for more municipal parking in the historic district of Heritage Park.  It also frees resources to expedite the other projects which have been on perpetual hold while everyone argues over the Parish House.  We can have the Church and the Museum open in a few short months, and have ample parking for both!

What do you think is more important?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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