ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County leadership hasn’t yet decided what to do with the former post office and county administration building on South Hancock Street, but whatever happens, the Historical Society wants to preserve some of the building’s defining characteristics.
The potential fates of the building range from a parking lot — to contain the student traffic that’s sure to follow the new Richmond Community College campus — to office space to condos, though nothing is final, according to County Manager Bryan Land.
“I’ve heard everything but nothing has been set in stone,” Land said. “I’m open to any suggestions.”
The “aged and outdated” administration building was dedicated in 1934 and its cooling system was installed in 1963 — it’s far from being in compliance with current regulations.
It is not handicap-accessible, it was made with asbestos, all of the electrical work in the building needs to be redone and it needs a whole new air conditioning system — among other fixes — putting the cost of restoration at “millions of dollars,” according to John Stevenson, president of the Richmond County Historical Society.
The cost of replacing the windows alone — which don’t insulate the building well, jacking up utility costs — would be between $350,000 and $400,000, Land said. He added that the cost to fix this is more expensive than continuing to pay the extra utilities.
There has not been a professional study to find exactly how much it would cost to renovate the building.
Stevenson sent a formal letter to the Board of Commissioners stating the society’s interest in preserving three New Deal-era oil paintings, two bronze lanterns on the outside of the building and several sections of the Art Deco sandstone trim at the top of the building, regardless of what the county decides to do with the building.
“I would love to see it stay there,” said Commissioner Thad Ussery, who spoke in defense of the “early-American” administration building at the board’s November meeting. “It’s a beautiful old building.”
Stevenson said the Historical Society is less focused on trying to preserve the building itself than preserving the parts of it that represent “the construction of that time period.” Their primary focus going forward, he added, will be preserving the old courthouse.
The county’s maintenance staff still operates out of the basement of the former administration building, though the three above-ground floors are empty, according to Land. He said the rest of the building could be used today despite all of its problems.
“We just don’t have any need for it,” Land said.
When commissioners voted to purchase the former First Bank property on Fayetteville Road in late 2014, there were “plumbing leaks and pipes bursting every couple of days,” according to Land. In their new home, he said the county is saving more than $2,500 per month on the power bill.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]