The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

March 8, 2013

City reluctantly concedes Stull house can’t be saved

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

HERMITAGE — Although there are city officials afraid that former Commissioner Sylvia A. Stull might be planning some sort of afterlife revenge for reaching the decision, they have agreed that her home must be torn down.

Stull, who died in 2006, bequeathed her home and 40-acre property on Sample Road to the city, and officials have been planning to develop a park at the site, one geared toward nature and the environment instead of soccer and swing sets.

The house has been a matter of much discussion. Officials have wanted to keep it in some way, looking at it as an activity building, a caretaker residence or a community center.

But, it’s an old house, with the issues that old houses get when they are not lived in for some time.

City Director of Planning and Development Marcia A. Hirschmann said officials asked themselves if the house is an asset or a liability. After having HHSDR Architects/Engineers, Sharon, evaluate the house and finding structural problems with it, the answer became clear.

“It’s a liability,” Hirschmann told the Hermitage Community and Economic Development Commission Thursday.

“It’s not an architectural marvel,” she said. “It’s just an old house, but it has a lot of sentimental value.”

While the house cannot remain standing, Hirschmann devised a way to remind visitors of its presence by building a memorial garden within the footprint of the house.

The locations of the front and back doors will be entrances to the garden, a portion of the chimney will remain, bricks and stair steps from the home will be used as part of the garden, existing plants will be saved, and an informational kiosk will match the colors of the house. Signs will tell about the Stull family and their gift.

With that decision made, officials have moved onto the next big step in developing the park – building an activities building.

“We can’t send people out there and have nothing,” Hirschmann said.

The city has sent out requests for proposals to architects who would want to design the building, which also would have rest rooms, a kitchen, class/gathering space and storage space, she said.

“We want it to be very low maintenance and budget conscious and we want it to be very basic in design,” Hirschmann said. “We don’t want it to be like the eCenter. It will look more like a barn.”

The eCenter@LindenPointe is a business incubator and testing lab the city built in LindenPointe technical business park along South Hermitage Road.

The city has $150,000 set aside for development of the park, and some of that will be spent on the design, City Manager Gary P. Hinkson said. When estimates on the cost of the building come in, officials will discuss whether to put more city money in, apply for grants, or appeal to the public, such as through a memorial brick campaign.

Although the availability of governmental grant funding has lessened since the economic downturn, Hinkson said it could play into the city’s favor the fact that they would not be looking to build ballfields or soccer fields.

“I think there is a nice story to tell out there,” he said.

What’s clear is that city officials are ready to start developing the park, which likely will have trails through the extensive woods and wetlands as a drawing card.

“We’ve been looking at this in a lot of ways,” Hinkson said. “It’s been on the front burner, the back burner. We want to get it going this year.”

Officials said they expect to demolish the house this spring.

Commission member George Kraynak, owner of a plant nursery, said he would be willing to donate 100 plants to the park.

Officials still are not sure what to do with the two fields that were farmed. The city has cut them for hay in recent years, and would like to preserve an agricultural use, but it’s going to take more work than a municipality tends to want to put into a recreational maintenance.

“We haven’t figured out how to do that,” Hirschmann said. “We can’t send the street department out there and tell them to plant corn.”