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City Hall Can be Saved, Experts Say
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City hall 28jul16Standing before a packed gallery of Whitley Building supporters at Whiteville City Council Tuesday, Jeff Adolphson of the State Historic Preservation Office said Whiteville’s City Hall can and should be saved.

"It’s a beautiful building and certainly worth preserving,” Adolphson said.

The preservation specialist came to council Tuesday with Cathleen Turner of Preservation North Carolina, a non-profit group that specializes in preserving and reusing historic properties across the state. Adolphson also introduced Hannah Beckman, the county’s representative with the State Historic Preservation Office.

The 1938 City Hall was closed last year due to mold problems that have defied eradication efforts. Mold problems began with seepage in the basement, which is below the water table in some places, and spread to the French drain system from the roof and elsewhere.

The building served as a Post Office until the 1980s, when it was deeded to the city for use as a municipal building. It was renamed in honor of the late Horace Whitley, a longtime mayor who spearheaded the move.

City offices were moved from the basement several years ago due to mold, asbestos and lead issues. After the mold began spreading into the remainder of the building, officials made the decision to move to an interim location in the Roses Plaza while the city examined its options.

Mayor Terry Mann and others have emphasized that the city’s primary goal is to renovate and restore the building. Demolition of the structure is among the options to be examined by an architectural firm that will be hired this month to come up with a course of action.

Janice Young and members of the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society – the Brown House is a short distance from City Hall – packed the council chamber Tuesday to express support for saving the municipal building.

"We believe our city hall is an opportunity to spark economic growth in Whiteville and the whole county,” Young told the council.

She noted that a discussion at a recent convention of city council members from across the state cited "authenticity” as an attractor for businesses, new residents and industries.

"One thing that has been proven to work,” she said, "is when a town is authentic. Employees, businesses owners, developers across the nation are looking to small towns and cities to provide something genuine. No one wants cookie cutter development – they want the real thing.”

Adolphson imageAdolphson said the city has a simple but labor-intensive and expensive task in cleaning and restoring the building. However, the city can benefit from the experiences of others, he said.

"Yours isn’t the first city hall to be shut down by mold, and it won’t be the last,” he said. "Your advantage is that you have a brick and steel construction. That makes it much easier to clean than a woodframe structure.

The necessary steps, Adolphson said, "are really simple.

"You have to stop the water from getting in,” he said. "Once the building is secure, you have to clean the building, and remove any food source for the mold.” Dust, rotting wood, paper covered drywall, and other common substances are harbors for mold, he said.

"Once that is stopped,” he said, "you seal and strengthen the building, and take steps to prevent a future mold problem.”

Adolphson toured the building Tuesday before the city council meeting and said "it’s really not as bad as you might think.

"It’s a serious problem,” he said, "but it can be fixed.” He did not hazard a guess as to the cost of repairs to the city hall.

Major rehabilitation of the drainage system and the berm outside the building can help move water away from the structure, Adolphson said. After the interior is stabilized, complete removal of wooden framing, older drywall, floor coverings and other mold-harbors will help prevent future outbreaks.

Although work was started on a Whiteville Historic District years ago, Adolphson said, it was never completed. Establishing such a district provides significant state and federal tax credits for qualifying owners and properties. When Gov. Pat McCrory brought back the previous state historic preservation tax credit, Adolphson said, interest again rose in preserving and purchasing vintage properties, especially in smaller communities.

"A lot of people think that getting National Registry status for your property limits what the individual can do, with it,” he said. "That’s not the case – it’s largely an honor, and it’s not as restrictive as the protective covenants used on many properties.”

While the bulk of such activity was residential, Adolphson said, commercial and municipal properties also play a role in the growing trend.

He noted that the Beaufort and Clinton Post Offices, both built around the same time, also had major problems before they were restored and reused. The Beaufort facility also serves as a City Hall, while the Clinton building is privately owned.

Adolphson said that before the city makes a final decision on the property’s fate, it needs to be stabilized.

"At that point,” he said, "you can catch your breath and decide if you want to restore it, mothball it or sell it.”

Private ownership is always a good option if the city can’t afford or doesn’t want to restore the building to municipal use, Turner said.

She explained how Preservation NC doesn’t provide funding for owners of old buildings, but the group has helped save historic structures in a number of towns through sales of public properties to private individuals and companies. Among the examples she described were the 1930-era Lumberton municipal building and fire station, which is currently partially restored and on the market. Other structures the group has helped range from vintage homes to former psychiatric hospitals, large medical centers, industrial buildings and schools.

"You have a beautiful Colonial Revival city hall with a magnificent entrance,” she said. "The interior is very practical for a lot of purposes, should you decide to put it on the market.”

Turner said attitude is key to preserving classic buildings. Convincing the city of Goldsboro to sell buildings instead of creating parking lots led to a revival of that city’s historic district, she said.

"You have to look at something and think, ‘Can we do something thoughtful and deliberate?’” she said.

"You have a lovely building here,” she said. "The last thing we like to see is a structure like this torn down.”

By Jefferson Weaver

Article and Images Courtesy of and as Published July 28, 2016 in The News Reporter www.nrcolumbus.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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