The future of the river museum

By Erin Perkins -

POINT PLEASANT — Discussions on the rebuilding plans for the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center came up during this week’s Point Pleasant City Council meeting.

Kyle McCausland, Mason county resident/property owner, including property on Main Street/member of the Main Street committee/ member of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, was in attendance to speak with council. He provided each council member in attendance including Charles Towner, Janet Hartley, Jerrie Howard, Gabe Roush, Leigh Ann Shepard, Elaine Hunt, Brad Deal, and Rick Simpkins as well as Mayor Brian Billings, City Clerk Amber Tatterson, and City Inspector Randy Hall, with informational packets.

“I’m concerned about the historic district of Point Pleasant and that’s why I’m here to talk about that, really this is about education, I’m not trying to sway any one person or the other I just want to be sure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision about historic buildings, particularly in this case the river museum.”

Of the informational packets handed out, the first folder contained articles written by Mason County resident Chris Rizer, president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.

“The main point is we have lost 22 buildings in this county that were historical, 20 of them were in Point Pleasant, that’s 20 percent, so you basically lost a fifth of your historic district since 1985, that’s a tremendous amount.”

The second folder was a national register of historic places, which highlighted everything in the Point Pleasant historic district including the boundaries. McCausland commented the main point is two of those buildings were considered, “outstanding” and the river museum has a major significance as well and two of major significance are already gone.

The next folder was information from the historic landmark commission, McCausland highlighted information on page 39, “the historic landmark commission shall review any application to construct, alter, move, demolish, or repair any landmark, structure or site, within the historic district and shall be approved to reject any such application.”

The following folder contained the guidelines for the historic district, McCausland highlighted information on page 6, “demolition of a historic landmark constitutes the irreplaceable loss to quality character of the city of Point Pleasant, every effort should be made to retain the original front facade.”

The fifth folder held information about the use of federal and state tax credits for projects involving historical landmarks.

The last folder contained information about Penn Station in New York City which was torn down in 1963. McCausland explained after it was torn down it made the people in New York realize they need to start saving buildings such as this one.

“This is information you need know,” said McCausland. “You need to take it and you need to use it when you are making your decisions on any building in the historic district whether that be repair, whether that be building a new building on a lot that’s empty, or different concept of demolition…It’s your goal to do the right decision, but you have to have all the information. I personally have not felt that you had all of this information. I understand that cost is very important, I get it, I understand that timeliness for the river museum is very important, I get it, but I also think that the one part that has been forgotten is the historic district and the value that it adds and how this may or may effect it in a positive way, so that’s really why I am here, so to me this is your Penn Station.”

Hunt thanked McCausland for providing the council with the information before them and Howard asked fellow council members to regard document number three containing information from the historic landmark commission again, which she explained is from the city’s own ordinance book. Howard feels the historic landmark commission needs to be more involved with the process of what is to come for the river museum.

Howard suggested the council stop and take a good look at what they are doing and bring in an additional structural engineer with expertise in historical buildings to look at the state of the river museum and see if more of the structure could be saved for rebuilding.

At the council meeting in February, Mike Davis, engineer for Burgess and Niple, was in attendance and it was said in October of 2018, Davis along with two other structural engineers and the insurance adjuster agreed the majority of the structure needed to be taken down and rebuilt, however, the rear side, will be able to stay and be used in the rebuild. Last Wednesday, a meeting was held to discuss upcoming plans for the demolition and rebuild and it was agreed upon that though the original, damaged, old brick of the front and side facing First Street could not be saved, new brick will be used to make an exact replica of these sides when the structure is rebuilt.

Brian Patterson, who is one of the board of directors for the river museum, said, “The structural engineer, from what I understand, did deem it as unfit as not structurally sound. The brick due to its age with the heat, the water damage has became very brittle, so when you remove the structure on the inside and you have a free standing structure 150 (year) old brick wall that’s standing there, when you start building with equipment and vibrations and all that, what’s to keep that from falling…our goal at the river museum is not to destroy the building, but common sense has to come into play.”

Patterson commented in this situation they are trying to get a fire damaged building back in operation as they have already been out of commission for eight months.

“It’s not the body, it’s what’s inside. It’s the heart, it’s not that building, it’s what’s inside that building, is what people come to see,” said Billings. “It’s the artifacts and history of our great rivers the Kanawha and Ohio.”

Roush inquired about saving the facade of the building. McCausland responded the facade could probably be saved as it has been done in other cities, but he does not know what the cost would be.

McCausland said, “The other point that I think is being missed is that the question is, if it’s structurally unsound what does that mean, what would you have to do to make it structurally sound, because you can always make a building structurally sound even if it’s structurally unsound. The question is what does that mean and how much does that cost, that’s the question. Believe me, I love the river museum and you’re correct mayor the inside is incredibly important, but the outside is also important…in reality it is the gateway to Point Pleasant, it’s the gateway to the park.”

Hall then added during the initial discussions of the building’s fate with the engineers, they did discuss saving the facade, but the engineers were “absolutely to the point where they were saying it’s an impossibility to hold up a front wall by itself while you build to it.”

They then evaluated the significance of the facade, Hall explained the whole face of the building was a newer part of the building, not having such a significant historic age as the rest of the building.

Howard then proposed a motion to delay the demolition and moving ahead with the plans until they can have a structural engineer with experience in historical preservation do an evaluation of the structure and allow up to $8,000 in fees to be used for the cost of the engineer. Hunt seconded the motion.

Hunt then suggested to table Howard’s proposed motion until the council can seek legal counsel from City Attorney Michael Shaw as he was absent from the meeting due to illness.

Roush then made a motion to table the previous motion made by Howard and to allow the city attorney to review the contract made with Burgess and Niple and then hold a special meeting to discuss the matter further. Hartley seconded the motion, and all yes votes were made by Towner, Hartley, Roush, Hunt, Deal, and Simpkins. Howard voted no and Shepard, Councilwoman Pat Sallaz, and Councilwoman Olivia Warner were absent.

By Erin Perkins

Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.

Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.