Rock Hill water tank delayed; preservationists still work to save historic home

Construction on a new water tank near downtown Rock Hill has been delayed for a second time this year after city officials say they needed to rewrite some specifications for the project.

Late last year, Rock Hill officials said construction was expected to start in April 2014 after two historic homes on West Main Street were either moved or demolished.

This week, officials told The Herald it could be October before the Laurel Street site is ready for the new 750,000-gallon water tank.

There are only four companies in the nation that specialize in building water towers, said Kevin Bronson, general services administrator for the city. Rock Hill has set a deadline of Thursday for companies to submit bids to build the water tank.

The change in schedule is not affecting the city’s expected $4 million cost for the new water tank, Bronson said. He says the city isn’t behind schedule for the project but that officials have moved the deadline to give Rock Hill more flexibility in making adjustments to the water tank’s construction.

The first invitation to interested companies was sent in late March. The new construction timeline won’t negatively affect planned development projects nearby, Bronson said.

Rock Hill is paying for the 165-foot-tall tank and associated water line improvements with a $4.7 million loan from the state of South Carolina. The loan program is designed to help municipalities complete water and sewer infrastructure projects.

Bronson expects Rock Hill will close on the state loan sometime in September. Once the money is available and a contractor is chosen to build the water tank, it will take around 18 months to finish construction, he said.

The project delay gives local historic preservationists another shot at saving a historic home sitting on land the city has bought for the new water tank. Historic Rock Hill, a nonprofit group that runs the White Home near downtown, began an effort to save the house nearly six months ago.

In December 2013, the group was told it had until Feb. 15 to relocate the nearly 140-year-old home located at 302 W. Main St., near the Laurelwood Cemetery. Several weeks later, the city told Historic Rock Hill it would have until May 29 to save the house.

Now, city officials say the house – called the Mills-Hallman House on historic records – will be safe from demolition until late September.

Another historic house next door – the Caldwell House – is expected to be moved. Contractors have already begun preparing the Caldwell House for the move.

Historic Rock Hill is interested in saving the Mills-Hallman House from demolition because it is one of the few homes left from the Reconstruction Era, built just after the Civil War. The group plays a vital role in preserving the city’s historic places and buildings, says Executive Director Annemarie Beebe.

“We document the history of where the city’s come from and really where it’s going,” she said.

The Mills-Hallman House is one building she’d love to save, she said, but she’s not sure it’s possible. For months, she and Historic Rock Hill looked for suitable land to move the home and donations to pay for the project.

Ultimately, she said, the city told the group too late about the chance to save the home. With more time, Beebe said, Historic Rock Hill may have been able to launch a fundraising campaign to save the Mills-Hallman House.

Now, Beebe says she’s still hopeful and some city officials say there may be another way to preserve the house. The Rock Hill African-American Cultural Resources Committee may be able to use the house as a headquarters building or future black history museum, officials told The Herald this week.

Discussions are ongoing about whether the committee – which is a private group that partners with the city – has enough support to move the Mills-Hallman House, said Katie Quinn, city spokeswoman.

If efforts to safely move the house aren’t successful, the city of Rock Hill will foot the bill for demolition and debris removal, Bronson said. Officials estimate that could cost at least $10,000.

Beebe has said she’s been frustrated by the changing deadlines and details about the water tank project and it’s affected her ability to try to save the historic house. City officials have said Rock Hill employees gave the historic group as much notice as they could about the project.

If no one can move the home in time, city officials plan to salvage some material from the house to give to Historic Rock Hill for preservation purposes.

In the future, Beebe said, she hopes Rock Hill leaders will contact the historic group earlier about buildings that may be in jeopardy of demolition because they sit in an area poised for new development – especially around Rock Hill’s textile corridor along West White and West Main streets.

There, the city has plans to redevelop old textile buildings and land, particularly the former Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. site, commonly called the Bleachery. The economic revival plan is called “Knowledge Park.”

Better communication with city officials and developers, Beebe said, will help Historic Rock Hill in its mission to preserve the city’s past instead of being “reactionary” when old buildings are threatened.