Blair Creates Courthouse Preservation Committee | News, Sports, Jobs

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County Commissioners are creating an advisory committee with members — to be named — who will play a key role in protecting the oldest part of the county courthouse.

“I hope this will take us away from what happened in the past,” Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb said after he and fellow commissioners voted at a recent meeting to establish the Historic Blair County Courthouse Preservation Advisory Committee.

Before beginning what turned out to be five years of repairs and restoration work on the oldest side of the county’s most recognizable structure, a 2014 study informed county leaders that the courthouse was falling apart. Due to long-neglected water leaks and improper repairs, the commissioners were advised that without steps to undertake repairs, the portion of the courthouse built in 1875 and extended in 1906 would continue on its way to demolition.

As five years of repairs and restoration draw to a close, Commissioner Terry Tomassetti has asked his fellow Commissioners to form an advisory committee to prevent the neglect from happening again and to advise on what happens next.

Additional measures have already been recommended to address the roof and drainage pathways on the 1906 structure and the courthouse clock tower, Tomassetti said. In addition, the bell tower clock has four dials displaying different times and the clock, dismantled during the renovations, no longer strikes.

The committee’s scope of work, Tomassetti suggested, could be modeled after that of the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, which focuses on that building’s assets and how they are maintained and preserved. But unlike the state committee, which has access to a fund to undertake initiatives, the Blair County group will only advise commissioners who hold the purse strings.

After Tomassetti suggested creating the committee, Erb and fellow commissioner Ted Beam Jr. asked about the scope of the group’s responsibilities and membership.

In voting to create the committee, the commissioners chose language that limits the committee’s attention to artifacts, documents and other historical objects and resources located in or associated with the 1875 and 1906 parts of the courthouse.

This means that the committee will have no influence on non-historic structures, including the 1999 portion of the courthouse. There are plans in 2020 for some maintenance upgrades following the installation of a new roof earlier this year.

When discussing the formation of the committee, Beam also asked whether the county administrator and the director of public works should be members of the committee.

Tomassetti described County Administrator Helen Schmitt and Director of Public Works Rocky Greenland as valuable contributors to the Courthouse Oversight Preservation Team. This group grew while renovations were underway to the 1875 and 1906 portions of the courthouse and depended on Tomassetti to advise the other commissioners of their recommendations. Besides Schmitt, Greenland, and Tomassetti, other members of the courthouse preservation team were Judge Jolene G. Kopriva, project architect David Albright, and local curator John Rita.

In the vote to create the new committee, the commissioners chose five members – the presiding judge or his representative, a member of the council of commissioners and three members, with the inclusion of people with experience in the restoration of monumental buildings or a training in historical restoration or conservation of fine arts, who will be appointed by commissioners.

The county administrator and the director of public works, or their assistants, must attend all meetings of the committee but will not be members.

Once the committee is appointed, members must hold regular meetings that will be advertised and open to the public. One of his main responsibilities will be the development and annual presentation of a comprehensive three to five year plan and program for the historic preservation and restoration of the courthouse.

The duties also require committee members to seek grants and subsidies from public and private sources that could be used for preservation and restoration efforts. But the process of applying for that money is up to the commissioners office.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

Today’s breaking news and more to your inbox

Comments are closed.