Historic collapse

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A meeting this morning could indicate how much a partial roof collapse at Highland Hall damaged prospects of preserving the historic structure.

The roof of a section at the back of Highland Hall collapsed Friday because of heavy rainfall last week, said property owner and RADD Development Co. President Ralph J. Albarano.

Questions have surrounded the more than 140-year-old building over the past year as owners and borough officials looked for the best way to handle the structure, which is in need of serious repair. Members of the community came together in hopes of preserving the building, but Friday’s collapse might put a damper on those hopes.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Albarano said the damage to Highland Hall was “severe,” and he is not sure if the back section is repairable or if it will need to be demolished. The building’s roof has been a problem since RADD purchased it in 1998, he said.

“It just happened that this heavy rain was too much for it,” he said.

Hollidaysburg Borough Manager Mark Schroyer said he, Albarano and S&A Homes Executive Vice President Andy Haines will meet today to discuss the damage and work toward a potential solution. Haines had announced plans earlier this year to renovate Highland Hall into an apartment complex for seniors but was denied the needed tax credits to move forward with the project.

The renovations were put on hold indefinitely in August, though Haines said then he would likely resubmit the application for the tax credits in the spring.

Haines did not return calls for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Schroyer said the damage to the building poses a danger, and the main priority at this morning’s meeting will be the “health, welfare and safety of the public.”

“There’s no question the gaping hole in the building needs to be secured,” he said.

He described plans for the building as “fluid” and said he was unsure if a potential demolition was in the cards. The part of the building that was damaged was not part of the original build, to his knowledge, but was added on later, Schroyer said.

Albarano had asked the Hollidaysburg Borough Council in July 2012 for the option of razing the building, as repairs were costly and development attempts to that point were unsuccessful. A community task force was formed in response to the proposal to investigate possible ways to save the property.

Carol Stevens, a member of the task force, said that area residents aren’t aware of the historical value of the building. She said she had been “sweating it out” since the renovation project fell through in August.

“It’s just tragic what’s happened to it,” she said. “It seems to be that I’m one of the few people that look at it that way.”

Highland Hall has served as a girls’ school, Army radio school and a school for young men operated by the Franciscan Order of the Roman Catholic Church. County offices occupied the building before moving into an annex built onto the county courthouse.

Stevens said she would gladly continue working to help save the building.

“I tried to help as much as I could to at least make people aware that it should be considered a valuable part of the borough,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.