It is gratifying that some work finally is being done to restore Hightower Hall at Historic Brattonsville. But this begs the question: Why has progress on this important project been so slow?
York County has owned Hightower Hall, an 1850s-era Italian-style villa, for nearly a decade. It is one of the fist buildings visitors see as they enter Historic Brattonsville, which features a variety of other restored 18th and 19th-century structures, many of which one belonged to the prominent Bratton family.
But efforts to renovate Hightower Hall have been an exercise in frustration. For example, Charlotte architects Fryday & Doyne were hired in 2001 to design renovations and additions to Hightower. The firm submitted plans in 2003 to turn the hall into a banquet, meeting and conference center.
But in 2004, bids came back at nearly $1 million more than the projected $1.7 million budget. Two years later, the county terminated the contract with Fryday & Doyne.
In 2005, Van Shields, executive director of the Culture & Heritage Museums, told the County Council that the Cultural & Heritage Commission, which is in charge of the project, didn't have money to do the renovations. The council then doubled its pledge for the project to $1.5 million and dropped requirements that the commission match the contribution.
While the Culture & Heritage Commission has worked to raise money for the McCelvey Center in York and the mammoth proposal to build a new museum on donated property along the Catawba River, Hightower Hall seems to have been neglected. During the past two years, no major work has occurred at Hightower Hall.
Thankfully, some preliminary work is scheduled to begin soon. The county, under pressure to take advantage of a $20,000 grant from the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office awarded in 2002, will spend $98,000 to restore and refurbish the hall's windows. Casings, windows and shutters will be removed, stripped of lead paint and repaired off site by Shenandoah Restorations of Irmo. The windows will be put back once other work on the hall has been completed.
We hope that this is an indication that work will begin in earnest on this historic structure. Whatever the status on the other projects being pursued by the Culture & Heritage Commission, this one is practical, achievable and not so difficult to finance.
After Hightower Hall is fully renovated, it would be available for meetings, receptions, concerts, educational programs and other events that not only would bring in revenue but also would raise the visibility of Brattonsville and attract new visitors.
We're glad that work will begin soon, and hope the momentum will continue until the renovations are complete.
New work on Hightower Hall is welcome, but why is renovation taking so long?