Opinion

Restoration proceeds

Completion of the restoration of Hightower Hall, now in sight, will be the equivalent of the end of a bad dream. We hope, after the job is finished, the painful delays in this project can be relegated to the past.

During a ground-breaking ceremony last week, officials with the York County Council and the Culture and Heritage Museums announced that the project will be completed by early next summer. After the 1850s-era, three-story Italianate villa is fully restored, it will be used for educational programs, meetings, receptions, concerts and private parties.

The historic building, with its eye-catching tower and spacious porches, also will serve as another showpiece for Historic Brattonsville. And, opening Hightower Hall to the public will bring in revenue, help raise the visibility of Brattonsville and attract visitors.

The county has owned this property for a decade. The first stab at renovating the building occurred in 2001, when Charlotte architects were hired to design the renovations and additions to Hightower.

In 2004, bids came back at nearly $1 million more than the projected $1.7 million budget. The county ultimately terminated the contract with the architects.

In 2005, Van Shields, executive director of the Culture and Heritage Museums, told the County Council that the Cultural and Heritage Commission, which is in charge of the project, didn't have money to do the renovations. The council then agreed to double its pledge for the project to $1.5 million and loosened requirements for the renovation.

County Council Chairman Buddy Motz last week cited rising construction costs, problems with bidding and the difficulty of finding qualified workers to do the job as reasons the restoration has taken so long. But the failure of museum officials to make this project a priority also figure prominently in the delay.

While this project could have been accomplished in a timely fashion, instead, eight years will have passed before it finally is finished. And so far, the only completed work has involved restoring windows and shutters, and removing lead-based paint.

Final work will include waterproofing the exterior, installing French drains to prevent basement flooding, rebuilding front and back porches, replacing the roof, installing heating, air conditioning and plumbing and adding two restrooms. In other words, most of the major restoration will take place between now and next summer.

Again, though, maybe the sad history of this project can be put behind us when Hightower Hall finally is open to the public. We'll join county and museum officials in rejoicing when that happens.

IN SUMMARY

The restoration of Hightower Hall now is fully under way and should be finished by next summer.

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