Under contruction? Council receives plans for former town hall

The Valley Banner

HARRISONBURG — More than 17 months after a flooded basement sparked an inspection that led to its use as Elkton’s Town Hall being discontinued, Town Council members soon could act on an effort to get a better grasp on the condition of the historic Jennings House.

At this point, however, it appears likely that it will be at least midyear before Town Council knows what can be done and how much it will cost.

At their Dec. 18 meeting, council members received proposals from three architectural firms interested in assessing the structure at 173 W. Spotswood Ave.

Staunton’s Frazier Associates, Verona’s Lineage Architects and Charlottesville’s brwarchitects submitted proposals that included their qualifications and how they’d study the structure’s needs and plan appropriate construction.

The council’s next step is to choose an architect to study the building, formulate plans for repairs and provide estimated construction costs, according to Wayne Printz, Elkton’s mayor and acting town manager. Selecting an architect likely will occur in January or February.

“We’re going back to Square One,” he said. “We want the architect to come in and give us what the plan would be.”

The issues at the house date to July 2016, when the basement area that housed the Elkton Police Department flooded. Inspections after that determined that there was mold throughout the building, which led Town Council to vote on Aug. 3 to move its governmental operations to the Elkton Area Community Center.

The Mount Crawford office of Waco Inc. has removed the mold in the basement, but other parts of the former Town Hall remain off-limits.

Action Needed
The structure was built in 1840 by Dr. Simeon Jennings. In 1862, he cared for wounded Confederate soldiers in his home following the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic.

The structure has a laundry list of issues that must be addressed aside from the mold, including heating, air conditioning, roof repairs, wall repairs, electrical work, and foundation repairs, according to Printz. Without a detailed idea of what must be done, cost estimates for necessary work have ranged from $500,000 to $2 million.

No one on the council has balked at the thought of making necessary repairs. But the cost could be prohibitive for a town staring at a $17 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade, and how much the elected leaders are willing to spend on the project could be tied to how they plan to use it.

Councilman Joshua Gooden, who’s kept Jennings House on the front burner more than any other panel member, favors moving government operations back to the structure once repairs are made and it’s safe to do so.

“Usually when you think about a small town,” he said, “Town Hall is the most stately and noticeable building in the community. That building would fit that mold with the Elkton community, with its history and architectural style. It probably is the most prominent building in town.”

Returning town operations to the Jennings House, Gooden said, would give the government and community center room to grow.

Printz, though, said he’s not keen on sending town employees back into the building permanently. While the mold that’s been remediated is gone, the town received no guarantee it wouldn’t return.

“The majority of town employees don’t want to go back,” he said, “and I don’t think the building is suitable for town employees go back into unless we spend a million or so dollars.”

He said he’s partial to the idea of using the house as a museum or welcome center.

Gooden said his family has been in the construction industry for years, and he’s skeptical of some of the high estimates that have been tossed around to repair the house. Regardless, he’s all for the town taking its time to make sure the structure gets the care it deserves.

“It’s a good thing we’re not in the building,” he said, “so we can work on a plan overall of what you would do to bring the house back to your gold medallion in the middle of town.”

Printz said Town Council will seek public input before it makes any decisions regarding Jennings House.

But he’s of the opinion that doing nothing is not an option.

“I feel very strongly that we have to do something to remodel the house in some fashion, do something for our citizens,” said Printz. “We just have to figure out what we want to do.”

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