Efforts are under way to preserve historical aspects of the former YWCA building in Washington as Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living of Southwestern Pennsylvania moves forward with plans to transform the rundown structure into its new headquarters..
TRIPIL purchased the 80-plus-year-old building on West Maiden Street last January for $325,000 and is working to obtain the rest of the funding needed for a renovation project estimated at $6.5 million.
With structural engineers slated to begin checking out the structure shortly, TRIPIL brought in workers to make impression molds of the ornamental plaster stage surround in the auditorium and the ornate ceiling in the parlor before further damage was caused by the weather. Doug Bonnette, who handles maintenance for TRIPIL, said the building was initially full of water and a bandage had to be put on the roof to salvage what was left.
“They wanted to get started in here – even though we don’t have heat or electricity – because it’s crumbling as we speak, and if you don’t get it soon, it’s not going to happen,” said John Craig, owner of Iron Bay, a custom molding company based in Wheeling, W.Va.
Craig explained that the impression molds would be used to recast new pieces to return the ornamentation back to its original glory.
While Craig was busy working on scaffolding needed to cast the parlor ceiling, his spouse, Christy, and daughter, Courtney, a 2009 Trinity grad and senior at West Virginia University, were using small hand tools to smooth out the surface of the stage surround.
“I’ve been in here when it was nice,” said Christy Craig. “In elementary school, they used to hold Junior Olympics in this building.”
She added that it’s cool to be able to come back and be part of the restoration effort.
“A lot of people who grew up around here have some connection to this building,” said Rick Zatta, historic and accessibilities architectural design consultant for TRIPIL. “We want to bring this building back to the community.”
Zatta, who is working alongside Kenneth Kulak, the project’s primary architect, explained that the decorative plaster they are currently trying to preserve is typical of Elizabethan style. As part of restoring the stage surround, he is using an old photograph for reference as he sculpts a coat of arms out of clay in order to make a cast to replace the partially missing centerpiece.
The building was recently given a nod from the state on its National Register of Historic Places application, which now being reviewed at the national level, Zatta said. He explained that seeking the designation goes hand-in-hand with the process of applying for historic tax credits.
Currently located at 69 E. Beau St., TRIPIL plans to create additional office space and install a new wellness center for exercise, rehabilitation and training purposes in its future headquarters. The old pool will be covered over and used to store greywater for use in the bathroom commodes to help make the building greener as part of the effort to become LEED-certified. TRIPIL also plans to revamp the auditorium into a multipurpose room that can be used as an Internet café or for public events such as dances and theatrical performances.
“They’re looking for more public involvement with that space,” said Kulak.
A local theater group has already expressed their interest in using the building, Zatta said.
“We’re looking for community support on this project,” he said. “It’s not just for TRIPIL.”
Rich Cleveland, director of development and marketing for TRIPIL, said the nonprofit is seeking $1 million in local share account funds, which are derived from gambling revenue from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, to round out the money needed for the $6.5 million project. TRIPIL plans to meet with the LSA board Tuesday.
To date, Cleveland said TRIPIL has committed $700,000 to the project and is working to secure $1.1 million in historic tax credits. The nonprofit has also received a $3.5 million federal loan guarantee as well as $200,000 split between a grant and a loan from the Washington County Redevelopment Authority.
Cleveland said plans for additional new construction on a neighboring parcel of land would bring the total price tag to $8.9 million.