Part of hall likely to be demolished

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The damaged section of Highland Hall likely is headed for demolition, and a decision will be made by Borough Council in the next week.

Borough Manager Mark Schroyer said he met with property owner Ralph J. Albarano and S&A Homes Executive Vice President Andy Haines, who was working to renovate the property. The damage to the back of Highland Hall is so extensive, Schroyer said, that Albarano, president of RADD Development Co., will seek an emergency demolition permit from the borough to raze that section of the building.

Albarano said the front section of the building will be boarded up in hopes of preserving it, though “it has its share of problems.”

“A building like [Highland Hall] that is vacant and old and has roof problems is going to get worse,” Haines said.

Albarano will submit a letter to council members after having a contractor who specializes in demolition examine the extent of the collapse, Schroyer said.

A decision could come in the next seven to 10 days, Schroyer said. Because of the emergency situation, he said there will be no public meetings to discuss the issue, and a decision will likely be made by a “telephone or email poll” of the council members.

“I think the opinions of the public are pretty well-known,” Schroyer said, “and the council and this administration have heard those concerns.”

The plan for a poll of council members appears to run contrary to the state Sunshine Act.

A training manual from the state Department of Community and Economic Development states: “The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires all public agencies to take all official actions and conduct all deliberations leading up to official actions at public meetings.”

The manual later notes: “The Sunshine Law does not require public notice of an emergency meeting. However, these meetings must be open to the public.”

Haines said the damage will not derail his proposed plan to update the historical structure into senior housing, and the back section of Highland Hall was in such bad condition that the project would likely have demolished it anyway.

“That back half has been in bad shape for a long time,” he said. “Literally the third floor has gone into the basement.”

He said he will resubmit an application for funding to complete the renovations. The project was put on hold in August when applications for tax credits were rejected.

He said that S&A Homes does not own the building, and if another proposal came through to buy the building, RADD has the option to go with that alternative.

Albarano said the damaged area is very unstable and that the demolition will need to move forward expediently.

“We want to do it as soon as possible less chance of further damage,” he said.

Albarano had requested to demolish the building in July 2012, leading to the formation of a community task force to save the building. Highland Hall has remained vacant since RADD purchased it in 1998 and repairs and renovations have proven too costly over the years.

The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 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. Most recently, Highland Hall housed county offices, which moved into an annex in the county courthouse.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.