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In a rush to restore Hightower Hall

Frank Couch, operation manager for the Culture & Heritage Museums, looks at the back of Hightower Hall at Historic Brattonsville. The brick steps are to replaced with wood that was original to the 1850's-era villa. Work on the villa's windows, doors and shutters is being hurried along by a $20,000 state preservation grant helping to fund the $98,000 project.
Frank Couch, operation manager for the Culture & Heritage Museums, looks at the back of Hightower Hall at Historic Brattonsville. The brick steps are to replaced with wood that was original to the 1850's-era villa. Work on the villa's windows, doors and shutters is being hurried along by a $20,000 state preservation grant helping to fund the $98,000 project.

The risk of losing grant money prompted a small portion of Hightower Hall's $1.5 million renovation project at Historic Brattonsville to start this month.

The project at hand for the 1850's-era villa, restoring the windows, doors and shutters, was jump-started by a $20,000 state grant that will be lost if the work doesn't begin by the end of year.

Shenandoah Restorations of Irmo was awarded a $98,000 contract by York County Council recently to restore and refurbish these areas. This contract is being subsidized by a $20,000 South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office grant awarded to Culture & Heritage Museums in 2002.

"The grant money is what's pressing there," Assistant York County Manger David Larson said. "There's been a hurried effort because of the deadlines of this particular grant."

This is the first "hurried effort" since Charlotte architects were hired to design restoration plans for the historical building six years ago. Another firm took over this year, starting anew to create more cost-effective plans for Hightower Hall.

The State Historic Preservation Office has been working for a few years to get the project started while accommodating renovation roadblocks, such hiring a new architect.

"They have a few setbacks and a few extensions," said Brad Sauls, supervisor of grants for the State Historic Preservation Office. "There was no real danger of losing the grant, but we want to get it done as soon as possible."

Director of Marketing and Public Information Jeannie Marion said the Culture & Heritage Museums have agreed to have the windows refurbished by the end of the year. The windows have to be sent offsite to be refurbished and will be stored until the general contractor is ready for them.

"It also makes sense to remove them during construction work by the lead abatement contractor and the general contractor so they will not be damaged," Culture & Heritage Museums Operations Manager Frank Couch said.

Some of the panes of the "irreplaceable" windows are broken, and others are wavy. Shutters also will be taken off to be restored and missing ones will be replicated, Couch said. Removing lead paint on the exterior trim and on all window and door openings also is part of the job.

The three-story Italian villa is the first structure visitors see at Historic Brattonsville, a 778-acre site with buildings from the Revolutionary War era to the Depression. Little work has been done on Hightower since the county acquired it more than a decade ago.

Charlotte architects Fryday & Doyne submitted plans to turn Hightower Hall into a banquet, meeting and conference center in 2003, but their contract was terminated three years later after not complying with the county's wishes to lower project costs.

In 2005, Van Shields, executive director of the Culture & Heritage Museums, told the county council that the Culture & Heritage Commission, the county agency that manages the facility, didn't have money for the project. The council then doubled its pledge for the project to $1.5 million.

During the past two years, no major changes have occurred to Hightower Hall, which never has been renovated.

"Not an awful lot more needs done to the interior," Couch said. "There's been many updates to the house over time, I'm sure, but there's not been a lot of changes over the years."

Technology updates -- wiring, heating, air conditioning, sprinkler and communications systems -- will be done when some of the wood siding is removed during lead abatement, instead of drilling through original plaster walls, Couch said.

When the project is completed, the county and the commission hope weddings and functions can be held at the Brattonsville Road house.

The facility never really has been open to the public, and other than the owls who nested in the tower this summer, Couch said it has only been used for a couple special events since being purchased by the county.

Bids for the next step, lead abatement work on the exterior of the building, will go out in mid-October. The balance of the project, which is being designed by Greeville-based DP3 Architects, will be bid at another time, Larson said.

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