Historic Highland Hall annex demolition begins

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Demolition of part of the historic Highland Hall building began Monday and is expected to last about a week.

A section of the roof at the back of the building collapsed in early October, and the section was approved for demolition at the end of that month.

John Niebauer Jr., president and CEO of Earthmovers Unlimited Inc., the company contracted for the demolition, said it’s typical for a project like this to take about 20 days of preparation time, as surveys and other planning need to be completed first.

Property owner Ralph Albarano Jr., president of RADD Development Co., said the state had to confirm asbestos had been removed from the building, and the utilities were shut off before the demolition could move forward.

He said the holidays and deer hunting season could stretch the demolition beyond its initial projected schedule.

Niebauer said Highland Hall is unique among other buildings he’s worked on.

“It’s an interesting building,” Niebauer said. “It’s the only three-story building I’ve ever torn down that’s built of native field stone.”

Niebauer said the work will continue regardless of weather, and the snow forecasted for the next few days should not stop the process.

Albarano said bids for the demolition were solicited by RADD and the borough was not involved.

Albarano said in October that the building’s weak roof was the source of the collapse, as heavy rains forced it down.

RADD purchased Highland Hall, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1998, and it has been in need of serious repair in the years since. The section being torn down is not a part of the original building but an annex.

The building 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.

Albarano had asked the Hollidaysburg Borough Council for permission to demolish the building in July 2012, and a task forced was formed in hopes of finding a solution to save it. S&A Homes Executive Vice President Andy Haines put forth a plan to renovate the building into senior housing while maintaining the facade, but needed tax credits for the project did not come through.

Members of the Borough Council were polled for their opinions about the demolition before an emergency permit was issued by Borough Manager Mark Schroyer. The damage was deemed severe enough to be dangerous to the public.

Niebauer said that, although Highland Hall has its share of issues, it’s impressive that it remains standing.

“It’s certainly withstood the test of time,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.