By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — Members of a local preservation group and task force are hoping to renew community support for a plan to preserve a Civil War-era building at DeVeaux Woods State Park.
Members of the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Society and a task force created last year by Mayor Paul Dyster's administration have called a meeting for 1 p.m. today to discuss efforts to preserve the Carriage House, a building that has been standing inside the park since 1863. The session will be held in Room 17 at Niagara Falls City Hall, 745 Main St.
Local preservationists rallied last year to delay plans by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to tear down the building which state officials previously said had deteriorated to the point where it posed a "serious health and safety risk."
In April, amid pressure from advocates for the building, regional state parks Director Mark Thomas announced that his office would postpone demolition for at least several months to allow preservationists and community leaders to develop a "viable" plan to reuse and rehabilitate the structure.
In the meantime, Mary Ann Rolland, president of the Falls Historic Preservation Society, said the building's roof is showing new signs of deterioration, including several holes she says could have been avoided through proper care by the state.
"Over a year ago, preservationists in Niagara Falls and Niagara County requested a tarp be placed on the barn's roof to protect it from the weather until funds could be raised to replace the deteriorated roofing," Rolland said Tuesday. "Nothing was done. Instead, state parks maintenance personnel have taken a bucket truck, scraped snow and shingles off the roof and knocked holes in the south side of the barn decking to increase the likely deterioration of the interior of the structure."
State parks spokesperson Angela Berti stressed that her office has no immediate plans to demolish the building. She said crews were on site Tuesday removing roofing shingles in an effort to better secure the building and the roof with a tarp. She said the shingles have to come up because they are too sharp from age and tore the tarp when crews attempted to secure on the building a couple weeks ago.
As for last year's agreement with those who support preservation of the structure, Berti said it remains in place, adding that the barn has been removed from the demolition list and the state is continuing to work with the city to come up with a long-term solution for the property.
"Funding is obviously a problem right now for the city but the community should be assured that there are no plans to demolish this building," Berti said.
The Carriage House was originally part of a school for orphaned boys established by Judge Samuel DeVeaux, one of the city’s early pioneers.
Preservationists have argued that the building is too historically significant to raze. City lawmakers adopted a resolution calling on state parks to halt the demolition plans and encourage state officials to do additional cleanup at DeVeaux Woods State park itself. The effort was also supported by Mayor Paul Dyster, whose administration formed a task force to push for protection of the Carriage House building.
Rolland said an environmentalist working with the preservation society has been hired to test samples of shingles that have been scraped off the building's roof, which state officials have suggested contained asbestos. Rolland said those results should be available sometime next week.
For now, Rolland said, residents are encouraged to help support efforts to compel the state to do more to preserve the building. She said Wednesday's meeting will give residents a chance to discuss strategy to better protect the integrity of the building from this point forward.
"I think it's really horrendous," she said. "They still haven't demonstrated that they are trying to repair the roof or take care of it. It's demolition by neglect is what it is."