Camden County Historical Society has building problems

Jason Allen, head of the Camden County Historical Society, views the ceiling of the 18th-century Pomona Hall.
Jason Allen, head of the Camden County Historical Society, views the ceiling of the 18th-century Pomona Hall. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 24, 2014

Jason Allen would like to spend the summer reaching out to the community, organizing exhibits, tours, and special programs that tell the history of Camden County.

But lately, the executive director of the Camden County Historical Society has been dealing more pressing needs: rehabbing the organization's deteriorating building complex in Camden.

A new roof is desperately needed for Pomona Hall, an 18th-century plantation house, and that site, along with the adjacent Camden County Museum, is awaiting about $150,000 in repairs to fix water damage caused by leaking pipes.

Both locations in the 1900 block of Park Boulevard are closed while the Charles S. Boyer Building - housing the Richard Hineline Library and administrative offices - is open by appointment only, Wednesdays through Fridays.

"I understood what it was to be executive director," said Allen, who took the job in 2013. "To have a vision for the museum, to touch people's lives, and help them understand the importance of their history, I have to keep the lights on and do the administrative things."

"I have to fight these battles. But it's very, very frustrating."

Allen did not take a salary in June so he could pay the two-member staff and other bills, and he's even brought his lawn mower to the site to cut the grass because he couldn't pay the groundskeeper.

So he hoped for a little help from the city when it came to expediting the delivery of federal funds approved a year ago for the roof over Pomona Hall. He is awaiting a $145,000 community development block grant, apparently held up in the city's bureaucracy.

City officials say the grant is working its way through the required approval process.

The delay could affect another grant - $15,000 in foundation funding - that must spent on the roof by the end of the year, Allen said. If that money is not used, a further $10,000 from the foundation could be lost in 2015.

The federal grant "was awarded in the middle of 2013," Allen said. "Whatever approval was needed should have happened by now.

"I'm sure it takes time, but this is ludicrous," he said. "I just want the money to get the roof done."

The old roof - from the 1970s - would be removed and replaced by a protective barrier covered by new cedar shingles in keeping with the history of the house.

But the funds can be disbursed only after the project's approval by City Council and the writing - by the city law department - of a contract between the city and the historical society, officials said.

"The Council took a while to get this on their agenda and vote," Allen said. "We have to be patient with the city, but there's no sign of the money.

"It's the city's building, and we're just trying to maintain it. We've done everything we can, and it's one holdup after another."

The process was delayed in part because the state had to authorize work on the historic building, city officials said.

"Once the contract is done, a copy goes to the historical society," said Cyrus Saxon, who heads the bureau for grants management in the city Department of Finance. "They have to sign it and send it back to the city.

"Then the city will send a notice that they're eligible to spend the money. The contract is being written up now."

Making matters worse for the society, it's also dealing with water damage that followed the breakdown of an old heating system during a frigid holiday break in January.

Allen called a contractor who restored the heat, but unintentionally created bigger issues: water pipes sprouted leaks at couplings in ceilings and walls - first in the Camden County Museum, then in the Boyer Building, where the library and offices are located, and later in Pomona Hall.

An insurance company paid more than $100,000 for repairs - enough to reopen the Boyer building and library but not enough to finish the repairs to the museum and plantation house, which remain closed.

About $150,000 more is required to complete the work, said Allen, who is waiting for an insurance settlement, which he hopes will provide the additional funds and allow him to eventually reopen a refurbished museum and Pomona Hall.

Meanwhile, the rooms inside the historic house are dark, radiators have been removed, a kitchen ceiling is stained from earlier water leaks, and another plaster ceiling lies on the floor of the attic, which once probably served as slaves' quarters.

Outside, the property is overgrown. The grass is high, and straggly bushes grow up next the house. Next to the museum building are more plaster waste, trash bags, and a toilet.

"Trying to keep the doors open has been so difficult," Allen said. "Until the construction is resolved, it's going to be hard to do the things the museum needs to do - offering programs, outreach, making a difference.

"But keeping the roof over our head and paying the bills are primary," he said. "We'll get it done, but it takes lots of time. ... We've got to save this place."

For more information, call the Camden County Historical Society at 856-964-3333.

856-779-3833 InkyEBC

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