Optimism, persistence key in changing Mt. Lebanon history center building
It was a welcoming sign for Jim Wojcik when workers descended on the Mt. Lebanon history center building because it was an indication that progress was finally being made.
Wojcik, president of the Historical Society of Mt. Lebanon, welcomed crews from Ramp Construction in early November after Mt. Lebanon commissioners approved moving forward with the first phase of the renovations to be made to the Spanish Colonial Revival-style building at 794 Washington Road.
In those last three months, crews repaired the deteriorating roof that was allowing water to enter the structure, helped reinforce a deck that overlooks Washington Road, removed hazardous asbestos from the floors and walls, added skylights, began enclosing a side porch and removed walls not original to the building.
“The roof was finished before Christmas. That has helped us make it high and dry,” Wojcik said. “It’s now water tight inside.”
One of the reasons commissioners decided to grant the $185,720 contract to the Canonsburg-based company was its similar work at the municipal building.
While the urgency of replacing the roof was of utmost importance for the historical society, eventually being able to move exhibits onto the first floor of the building rather than the basement – the standard operating procedure since 2009 – would allow for it to have enough room to hold traveling displays from the Heinz History Center that require 500 square feet.
The total cost for the first phase of the project are planning to settle around $190,000 to $200,000 after finding more asbestos than originally anticipated. Those costs will be paid by the municipality and fully refunded after the historical society receives a grant from the Pennsylvania Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund after the work is inspected.
According to Wojcik, the idea with the interior demolition was to make it more comprehensible for contractors to bid on the next phase of the project, which he hopes to be put out for bid over the next few months. That work is expected to include making the historical society’s collection available to people instead of the current location of an inaccessible off-site storage space by including handicap accessible requirements, reinforcing joists in the first-floor ceiling, removing a non-compliant staircase and replacing it with a fireproof stairwell.
The historical society also was awarded $50,000 from the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission as a Keystone Historic Preservation grant. It continues to try to raise money through grants, corporations and other local fundraising efforts.
“I just get so excited to finally see real progress being made after all this front-end work that we’ve done,” Wojcik said. “It makes me smile now when I walk into our history center. It just gives me a greater resolve to carry this thing through until the end so that we can have this great space for our community.”