Upper Pocahontas Community Cooperative Examines Tannery Building Options
On May 17th, the Upper Pocahontas Community Cooperative (UPCC) met in Arbovale to discuss their options regarding preserving and restoring the former Howes Tannery Office Building in Frank. Last fall, the UPCC had approached the County Commission about possibly being allowed to open a museum in the now county-owned building. After taking a tour of the interior of the building along with County Commissioner Walt Helmick, they saw that the rear half of the interior rooms had suffered severe water damage doe to a roof that had leaked for many years at the vacant building. The UPCC started looking at other options, such as the possibility that the commission, prior to demolishing the existing building, might allow them to build a small replica of the original office building elsewhere on the site incorporating some trim and artifacts from the original building into that smaller building which would serve as a WV tannery industry museum.
Later, when the UPCC held a meeting to discuss this, a number of former Howes Tannery employees came to the meeting and strongly objected to any plan that involved demolishing the original building. Commissioner Helmick then scheduled another tour of the building to show those former employees and any other members of the community just how damaged the building is. Even that did not alter the belief of former employees that somehow the building must be preserved and repaired.
After that meeting, the UPCC also started looking for ways to restore and use the building as a museum. The County Commission has said that they would only restore the building it can be financially viable to serve a worthwhile public or private function, while some former employees say the building should be restored even if it is to remain unused and vacant.
The commission has since obtained an estimate of $20,000 to just repair the roof.
So, the UPPC’s May 17th meeting was called to see what progress has been made toward restoring the building and using it as a museum. It was announced that the UPCC has now been certified as a non-profit business, a first necessary step. County Commissioner John Rebinski attended the meeting and suggested that possibly the county could sell some of the scrap metal at the East Fork Industrial Park, where the tannery building is located.
The UPCC had discussed the possibility of renting the upper floor of the building to the Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD,) who had expressed an interest. They explained that if they could do that, the money generated could be used to pay for utilities, maintenance and insurance for the museum on the first floor. However, that plan was demolished when Mark Smith of the PSD, who was at this meeting, said he had believed the idea was possible but when brought before the PSD’s Board, they voted it down because of the cost of the utilities, insurance and other expenses.
Commissioner Rebinski said the UPCC would have to obtain a grant to renovate the building and find some way for the museum to generate funds to operate the building. He pointed out that grants usually won’t pay for insurance or utilities. He said the commission would retain ownership of the property but the building would have to be self-sustaining financially, and if that doesn’t happen, the commission will likely have to demolish it for safety reasons.
Another possibility discussed was that the UPCC could obtain funds by having the building listed on the Rational Registry of Historic Places, however it was said there are strict historic guidelines the registry would require for renovations, for example, normally replacing a window would run about $200.00, but the registry would require original bubble glass, raising the cost of each window replaced to about $3000.00.
The meeting ended with the UPCC assigning some of its members to research various options to enable the building to operate as a museum and also be self-sustaining financially.