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Group Forms to Help Preserve City Hall
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City hall imageMany people try to fight City Hall, but some Whiteville residents are fighting for the venerable structure.

The Whitley Municipal Building, a former U.S. Post Office, was closed last year due to a pervasive mold problem. Officials have fought the problem for years, closing the downstairs office suite and maintaining pumps in the basement to remove excess moisture. The basement was tested and sealed in 2014, and the city has performed some repairs on the French drainage system leading from the roof through the walls, but the mold and mildew have won so far.

The City closed the building last year and opened temporary offices while the City Council decides on the future of the structure. Officials say estimates to clean up the mold, remove lead and other contaminants, and stabilize the building could be expensive, although City Manager Darren Currie emphasized that no decision has been made on the future of the 1938 building.

Janice Young of the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society spoke to the council at its April 12 meeting, urging preservation of the building. She said Wednesday that the "Save City Hall” campaign is generating growing support in the community.

"We know the council has a hard decision to make,” she said. "We support them in wanting to preserve the building. Far too many of our older buildings in Columbus County have been demolished. It’s often easier, but it’s not always the right thing to do.”

Built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, the Whiteville Post Office used the same plans as a number of other facilities across the country. A central feature in the plan—the below-ground office suite – has been the weakest point of the Whiteville building. The foundation is actually below the water table in the area.

"The basement and the foundation are the source of most of our problems,” Housing Inspector Carey White said when he conducted a tour of the building for City Council earlier this year.

Filling the basement with concrete and sealing it could further damage the foundation of the building, Currie said, and could even cause it to fall backward.

"The mold isn’t the only problem,” Currie said. "Inspectors found a serious asbestos problem in the old boiler.

"That will have to be removed as well as the underground storage tank, and we aren’t sure where that tank is.”

Young said the building is far from hopeless.

"We believe the City Council shares the views of most of the city – that the building needs to be saved,” she said. "Not just saved, but saved and reused.

"They have a big decision to make, and we trust they’ll make the right one.

"It may cost more to rehabilitate and expand, but if the citizens support such a move, it will be easier for the City Council to vote to preserve, rather than destroy.”

While there are older private and commercial structures in the county, Cty Hall is considered one of the oldest remaining public buildings, since the demolition of the 19th century jail to make room for the new courthouse.

"We have lost so many of our older buildings,” Young said, "and it would be a shame for this one to be demolished when it can be saved and preserved. This isn’t just a piece of Whiteville’s history – it’s Columbus County’s and America’s history as well.”

Currie said five firms have submitted request for qualifications (RFQs) to the city for consideration. Among the firms is one that worked on the Vineland Station Depot restoration.

The fifth firm, The Oakley Co., sent its RFQ to the old City Hall, Currie said.

"It was delayed due to the mail being forwarded and them using the wrong address,” Currie said. "It was a reasonable error, and they proved that they had sent it in time for the deadline.”

A committee is now reviewing the RFQs, Currie said. Council members Sara Thompson and Robert Leder, both staunch advocates for preserving the municipal building if possible, are on the committee.

"The committee is working to set up interviews right now,” Currie said.

Currie said the project is still in "the earliest of stages. "We don’t have any estimates, nor will we for a while,” he said. "First we have to interview the firms, then we have to check their qualifications and references. Then we choose one of the firms, or resubmit the request for bidders.

"Only after City council has decided on a firm can we get an early estimate. This isn’t a sprint – this is a long marathon before the council even has all the materials it needs to make a well-informed decision.”

Preservation North Carolina, a non-profit group that aids in protecting historic properties, has expressed interest in the City Hall project, Young said.

"It’s good that we have Preservation North Carolina on board,” she said.

"They have a lot of resources, which we hope would help the council make the right decision.”

Currie and Young agreed that too much of the city’s legacy has been lost, but City Council will have a "tough decision,” Young said.

"I don’t envy them,” she said. "It’s easier to bulldoze something and build new, but when you do that, you lose some of your community’s heritage.”

By Jefferson Weaver

Article and Images Courtesy of and as Published April 21, 2016 in The News Reporter www.Whiteville.com

 
The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society is an IRS Code 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions to the RBHPS are fully tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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