Good News!

Admittedly I’ve been ignoring this site for the a couple of years.  Adding a new kid to the family, training for marathons and coaching little league will do that.  However, I wanted to post some welcome news about Highland Hall in Hollidaysburg.  In previous posts, I talked about the decline of Highland Hall, and its inclusion on Preservation Pennsylvania’s list of the 10 most endangered historic sites in Pennsylvania.

Recently, there’s been an extremely positive development.  S&A Homes, a homebuilder out of State College with an active affordable housing program, successfully applied for PHFA tax credits that will enable the redevelopment of Highland Hall into a 53 unit senior housing complex.  This after two initial applications to the same tax credit program were denied.  Whew!  With rumors of demolition swirling around, and the ever present threat of vandalism or even arson, this news was tremendously important to the residents of Hollidaysburg and its historic district.

Hollidaysburg Historic District resident Andy Haines, who is vice president of S&A Homes, deserves a lot of credit.  Andy applied for the tax credits and facilitated a deal with the property owner to start a new chapter for Highland Hall.  Andy is also a long time member of the Hollidaysburg Historic Architectural Review Board, and currently serves as its chairman.

Work is scheduled to begin in 2016 on the projected $13 million dollar investment.  Here’s the text from a recent Altoona Mirror article on the project:

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Developers looking to put life back into the run-down Highland Hall have released additional details about their plans to restore the historic structure.

In May, S&A Homes Executive Vice President Andy Haines said the State College-based developer has found funding to make $13 million worth of restorations to the dilapidated structure at 517 Walnut St.

Funding for partial restoration and stabilization was awarded by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which granted an allocation of federal tax credits and financing to preserve the structure, Haines said.

Constructed in 1840, the stone structure has served as a girl’s school, a radio school during World War II and a school for the Franciscan Order of the Roman Catholic Church.

From the 1960s until the early 2000s, county offices occupied the building before moving into an annex built onto the county courthouse.

Highland Hall has been vacant for about 12 years, Haines said.

Funding will allow the preservation of the exterior walls, which are among few portions of the building not deteriorated beyond repair, Haines said. Within the walls, new construction is set to creating 53 affordable senior housing units, he said.

“The building is lucky it’s still standing,” Haines said in May, “but the exterior walls are in pretty good shape.”

At a meeting last week, Haines said he invited those who live or own property near the site to meet to discuss concerns and scope of work.

“We got a lot of positive feedback,” he said. “I think everyone is thrilled.”

At this meeting, additional details about the restoration were revealed. A handout distributed at the meeting said the building will be constructed within the original footprint, and no zoning or setback changes will be required.

Developers will try their best to save the original structure, as well as retain trees, hedges and other landscaping features, according to the handout.

The building’s parking lot will be redesigned to accommodate Americans with Disabilities Act standards, the handout said, adding that all Highland Hall parking will be handled on site.

In addition to restorations and building within the existing structure, Haines said a historically accurate addition is to be constructed to provide added space.

Along with the 53 housing units, new construction will include two management offices, a community room with a kitchen, a computer room and a library, the handout said.

Highland Hall will be a taxable property, according to the handout.

Prospective residents will be required to complete credit and criminal background checks, and they must make less than $29,000 per year, the handout said.

The handout said rent will fluctuate between $205 and $683 per month, with utilities included.

Though this development model is not a 100 percent reality, Haines said he is remaining positive while working to finalize financial agreements.

“It’s probably a 98 percent chance,” he said. “We’re still six to eight months from getting started, though.”

At Thursday’s Borough Council meeting, Hollidaysburg Mayor John Stultz Jr. said he’s excited to see this property restored.

“That building is going to come back to life, and it’s a good thing,” Stultz said.

Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2016, lasting about 14 months, Haines said.

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