Multi-Million Dollar Fix for County Home Debated
Several years-worth of debate on the County Home came to a climax Wednesday, March 14.
Peggy George, President of the Restoration Committee, met with county commissioners that day and informed them her granddaughter, Layla Williamson, has written a poem about the Home. The poem is going to be published in a book, and if the work passes elimination trials, then the school will receive new computers for Williamson’s efforts.
George explained the Restoration Committee has never had the goal of deciding what the County Home should be used for; the committee’s goal is to mothball the building. By mothballing, George means fixing the windows, doors and roof that are allowing elements to enter the building, causing decay. George stated, “The Restoration is not a group trying to figure out what to do with the building; the building cannot be thought on what to do with if it is not standing.”
George also said she recently invited the commissioners to attend a committee meeting, and Commissioner Eric Vincent made an appearance and spoke with the committee’s grant writer. George noted, “You were supposed to work with her, and I really did not appreciate the words in the December meeting – ‘I had nothing to say to her.’ I felt that was unacceptable and poor leadership ability.”
George said she contacted the Preservation Alliance for guidance on how to move forward with the restoration of the Home. According to George, the Preservation Alliance suggested the Restoration Committee seek legal advice; thus, George is getting that advice from Attorney Mark Sadd.
“Today before I leave this building, I would like a letter typed out or written, stating you gave us permission to raise and grant write from the period of January 2016 to December 2020, for the buying of the materials to mothball,” George said.
She continued, “We are not paying for labor; we never said that we would; we were just trying to help you and the Fair Association to fix a problem that has been created by the both of you by not maintaining property, which is your job and your duty to act.” George said Attorney Sadd asked her about the building being put on the National Historical Society, and George stated the commissioners were adamant against it being put in the National Historical Society.
“For 20-1/2 months, I’ve heard, ‘We don’t know what we’re going to do with it. We may sell it. We don’t have the money.'”
George continued, “Suddenly there is a topic about a fence; well that fence first came up April 24, 2012, and in that, Mr. Vincent, you stated in the minutes you would take care of it. That was never taken care of and never approached until I came in 2016, complaining about the vandalism that happened during the fair.”
George then questioned the purchase of the recent fence placed around the home, noting, “$14,000, roughly, for a fence? How is it going to stop the problem of any vandalism when a security camera costs under $2,000 and can show you who is causing the problems?”
George referenced a newspaper article, stating the commissioners were pleased with the measures taken to secure the property: “You were pleased with the doors being locked and the No Tresspassing signs, and my statement in that article was that all doors needed to be locked but one for the Fair Association to go through.” She then referred to the basement door of the building being non-existent. “To my knowledge, because I don’t go on the property, there is no door to the basement.”
“Mr. Baker did not have the correct key, and he said, ‘Well you can go through the basement.'” George stated the door was supposed to have already been taken care of, but none of the commissioners had been to the building to check on the security status.
“I can’t make you do your job, but as a citizen of this county I ask that you do your job; we are trying our best and working our hardest at doing the solution, and sir I do not believe that you have helped in any way… any of the county commissioners.”
“I commend the fair; they have done what they have been asked, but I have also been lied to by the Fair Association when asked to use the building and I think that is deplorable for this county,” George said.
Commissioner Vincent then gave a rebuttal to Mrs. George: “I will admit that us, as commissioners or anybody in an elected position – even all of you in your daily jobs, are not perfect. We have been attacked on social media, and we have not reported to those attacks.”
Vincent then listed several items that the commissioners are responsible for by stating, “Let me tell you some of the other things that we do besides taking care of buildings.”
“We take care of ambulances that need help. We take care of Fire Departments that need our help. We take care of the senior citizens programs in the county. We provide assistance to the Sheriff’s Department to fight crimes. We updated a 911 system to provide safety for the people of Tyler County. We provide vehicles, and yet over and over we are put out there that our only job is to take care of the County Home.”
“There is too much information being tossed back and forth without coming to the source, and you all can believe what you want, but I sit here trying to do my job to the best of my ability. To be repeatedly told that I don’t know what I’m doing or that I’m stupid – we repeatedly see the Facebook posts – and the same for the Fair Board, these people try their best.”
Vincent said, “As to the $1.5 million that keeps floating around, that is for all buildings. There are no particular funds that go to the County Home.”
“I specifically said in the (restoration) meeting that we don’t agree on the path of this building.” Vincent added, “I’m here to say that this is done and over.”
He continued with, “I have no ill will towards Peggy George, I forgive her for every bad thing she has said about me. What she does is good; the personal life that she has, which is taking care of people and her passion, is good.”
Vincent ended by stating, ” But enough is enough; for our county and for the fair, we need to put this thing to bed and call it over.”
George then requested the topic of mothballing the County Home be put on the ballot for the residents of Tyler County to vote on. She said the Restoration Committee has received money from people in hopes that the restoration project will be done.
Commissioner Vincent also clarified that, “We have no promise that any kind of funds are ever spent on a vacant building, because elected officials could file a lawsuit against us. We have prosecutors and family law judges that said we would go to court if we put a dollar in that building out there (referring to the County Home).” It was noted this is due to the fact that the prosecuting attorney’s building and the courthouse are both in need of repair and they are currently being used by those practicing law.
Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee stated, “As to the propriety of spending county money on property, is there an identifiable public use to justify the expenditure? Because otherwise what you have is a derelict property competing for funding from the county where you have constitutional offices that also have to be funded.”
Commissioner David Kelly reported Allegheny Design Services had recently done an assessment on what it would cost to restore the County Home. The total for the restoration to get it up to code would cost approximately $5,895,000.
Kelly stated, “That is the bottom line cost to restore the building, and that would be in a manner that would be up to code.”
Commissioner Vincent added, “In the basement, there are steel columns supporting the wooden girders. Where the columns meet the concrete floor, the column bases have rusted, some to complete degradation.
“These columns support the load of all the upper floors and replacement of these columns are required.”
It was noted the project must be under the guidelines of municipal or government project, meaning a project of the size can’t be done by a local contractor or volunteers. Under municipal guidelines, it has to be historically repaired, meaning that it can’t have plain windows or a tin roof. It must be repaired as close to its original state as possible.
James Swiger of WYK Associates stated the roof would need to be replaced under a major renovation project. He added the porches, windows, and gutters have pretty much rotted out.
The exterior veneer is still in pretty good shape and the exterior brick is mostly in good shape, but there will have to be some masonry work done. Swiger added there is mold on the interior of the building, which would have to be removed. Also, the interior hasn’t had too much work completed in its lifetime. Swiger said all of the electrical and plumbing is non-existent and must be replaced. He stated, depending on the end use of the building, it may have to have a sprinkler system installed. A ramp would have to be installed for ADA regulations since the main entrance is so far off the ground.
Swiger stated, “Basically it comes down to what’s the end use going to be, and as far as a business decision, don’t get me wrong – I’m all for historic preservation – but at the same time, it has to make sense financially. “To put several million dollars into a building that will never pay for itself isn’t a successful project, but that’s just my opinion.”
Commissioner Kelly asked, “Where do we go from here with the County Home? I think we need a plan on our options.”
Furbee stated an option would be to essentially declare the Home as surplus property. Furbee stated, “You can auction it off, or you can do like Mrs. George suggested and put it on the ballot to see what the pleasure of the voters is to dispose of the property, but hypothetically, if the voters don’t want you to sell it, you still need a plan for the property.”
It was discussed that there was very little done to keep the building up to code over the passing of time. Maintenance kept getting deferred until it landed on the lap of the current commissioners. Vincent stated, “It’s at the point now where that deferred maintenance isn’t a $1,000; now it is $6 million.”
Furbee added, “It’s not a passing of the buck issue to me; we can’t go back to 1960 and ask the commissioners what they are doing to maintain the building. That time has come and gone.”
OEM Director Tom Cooper, who was in attendance, added, “The people who sat there before you get blamed for some of this, but those people couldn’t make payroll back then, and we need to bear that in mind.”
Cooper continued, “The reason this place is in the condition it is, is not because of the character of your predecessors but because of the funding they had to work with.”
Furbee continued the conversation by stating, “You can have an auction to sell the property; you can run a ballot to get the will of the public on the matter – whether it is to be sold or not sold, but if it is not sold, then we are back to the question as to what are we going to do with the building?”
Furbee added “If I were you, my position would be that it’s not good business, and it’s not really within our charter to simply rehabilitate a building to make it into a museum piece.”
He continued, “If there are groups out there raising money with that in mind, that’s fine, and I don’t discount them or their goal. If it’s surplus property, then it needs to be dealt with as such.”
Commissioner Kelly added, “As county commissioners, we are called to be good stewards of the county’s money; we need to be aware of that as we press forward with this. It is not an easy decision to make, and there are people who care very deeply – and I respect that, but I think it is time to make a decision.”
Furbee requested, “Give me the opportunity to do a title examination on the property and have a new survey done so that when you offer it for sale, you can say exactly what you are selling.”
It was noted the sale can also have reservations in it to protect Arthur I. Boreman Elementary School and the Fair Association from purchasers with possible ill intentions.