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Editorial: Lansdale Borough Hall Should Be A Proud Relic

An opinion piece on why and how Lansdale Borough Council should keep a part of Lansdale's past — and why 311 W. Main should be completed first

When I was a boy, growing up in Towamencin, I was surrounded by amateur carpenters who do impeccable work.

My father, uncles and Pop-Pop Di Domizio would take their etched- or permanent marker-monogrammed tools and construct a new deck, back patio, addition, mantel, bookshelves — you get the picture.

I can’t speak for the other members of my family, but at least for myself, I also grew up in a home where six projects were going on at one time. I love my parents’ finished basement; I don’t love how they can’t use the other half of the attic. The plywood only covers the joists so far. It wasn’t until I was nearing my wedding when their back porch finally got enclosed.

I don’t live in that home anymore. I do live in Towamencin, but in an apartment where problems are completed by maintenance staff.

Where I don’t live is Lansdale Borough. However, if I did, I might feel like I was that boy back at home — but on a much grander scale.

Lansdale Borough Council is poised to vote Wednesday to proceed or halt to allow its architectural representative to draft alternative plans for the renovation of the municipal complex at Vine and Broad.

Like I said above, I don’t live in Lansdale. But I most certainly have a stake in Lansdale. I’ve had that stake since I was born at the old North Penn Hospital, now Elm Terrace. I’ve had that stake since I walked those streets on the weekends, while shopping, while walking home with friends from school.

Like many people in this region, I spend money in Lansdale. I’d like to think those who make the decisions for the town would care about such a fact.

That being said, here’s my analogy: Lansdale is that boyhood home. Council and management are the parents. The residents are that young man.

Is Lansdale biting off more than it can chew? Perhaps.

Lansdale is currently tasked with redeveloping and reviving 311 W. Main St., and, in essence, the downtown district. Lansdale is about to enter into construction of the Wood-Vine Connector. Down the road, Lansdale wants to change Madison Parking Lot.

Lansdale is also now tasked with dealing with the poor conditions of its police station and borough hall. These conditions, according to architect Spiezle, have existed since the buildings were last renovated more than 20 years ago.

Under current, reportedly horrible, conditions, Lansdale has kept the tax rate steady.

Under current conditions, Lansdale Police has reduced crime at more than 30 percent.

Is the renovation of the municipal complex a necessity or a luxury, at this immediate time?

Let’s finish what was started — let’s get 311 W. Main Street up and running and making money. And let’s see that project out to completion. Let’s clear the plate and now focus on the municipal complex.

Let’s make 311 W. Main a proving ground, so just maybe people will say to Lansdale behind its back, “They know what their doing with renovation and revitalization.”

Many residents and non-residents alike are yelling as such: Let’s not tear Lansdale down by tearing down our history.

Lansdale Borough Council runs the risk of taxpayer dissatisfaction with its ultimate decision — especially in an election year, where five leadership roles are on the line.

Could borough hall be the straw that breaks the camel's back, as they say? Maybe.

Lansdale Borough Council also runs the risk of falling into the same stigma as its predecessors whom made the decision on the future of Tremont Hotel.

I love history, and I love the history of Lansdale. Yes, I get upset when I see old picture of Lansdale’s heyday and see the Tremont in those pictures. I feel the same way when I see pictures of the old Lansdale Theater, the Hotel Norwood, the old Order of the Eagles, the petting zoo, Geller’s Emporium, Neiburg’s — you get the picture.

Councilmembers and administration may argue that the interior doesn’t have enough space and the structural problems influence a poor work environment and a danger to citizens.

There are some things council could consider in making its choice:

  • Make a historical district

    North Wales Borough and Pottstown Borough have such a zoning district, where a committee hears proposals and makes recommendations on improvements in the district. Pottstown is facing its own controversy with its historical architectural review board. But at least they still have a historic district. Is it time Lansdale makes its downtown district and surrounding areas a historic district?

  • Bring Discover Lansdale or Lansdale Historical Society on board as a conduit to obtain grants for improvements

    The National Trust Preservation Board offers matching grants up to $5,000 to qualifying agencies. These grants are used for preservation and educational projects, according to this website.

    The Cynthia Wood Mitchell Fund awards grants to public and private agencies for renovation of historic interiors, up to $10,000. Furthermore, the funding goes toward hiring of experts. However, Lansdale Borough Hall would need to be designated as a National Historic Landmark.

    Save America’s Treasures Grant goes toward the protection of historic structures through a matching grant.

    The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers Main Street Grants up to $500,000 for communities of less than 50,000 residents and 100 public housing units. (That’s Lansdale, right?) This grant funds renovation of historical buildings and homes in a historical district.

Furthermore, Gov. Tom Corbett signed a law in July 2012 for tax breaks for the renovation of historic commercial buildings. Agencies can get up to 25 percent tax credit for renovation costs up to $500,000. The main goal is to make historical renovation attractive to developers, according to this article.

Funding of a statewide $3 million isn’t available until July.

At Wednesday’s meeting, and every subsequent meeting on this topic, I must remain unbiased and neutral, as a journalist, in my reporting of the case. I report from the outside looking in, but I can't ignore the inside looking out.

As a North Penn citizen, I’d like to see the vacation of Railroad Avenue and expansion of borough hall. I think a pedestrian path along this route would be great, complete with a park.

Safety is the most important aspect of Lansdale. A new police station is needed — and I think we can agree that it’s not as beloved as borough hall.

Let’s put administration and police together, and keep the old borough hall. Perhaps borough hall could become another arts and cultural center, maybe even another museum through a partnership with the historical society. At least Lansdale retains some part of its past, and a well-recognized relic.

Keeping borough hall, and gutting the interior, and fixing major structural issues shows those coming into town that Lansdale cherishes its roots while moving into the future. Like 311 W. Main St., it can be its constant.

So, when it comes to a decision: slow down, take a deep breath, one at a time, bird by bird. Let's finish 311 W. Main St. before moving on.

Either way, the choice will go down in history.

Drew Stockmal February 19, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Nice opinion piece Tony. I agree.
Sherrianne Rocchino February 20, 2013 at 01:17 AM
Tony, thank you for the amazing article, hopefully your thoughts and ideas will be taken to heart. I too was born in Elm Terrace, in the original hospital where the church now sits. My grandfather and my uncle carried my mother to the second floor delivery room the night I was born. I lived in Lansdale for many years, I graduated from North Penn, I used to walk to and from school down Vine st, every school day past the post office (at that time). I was devastated when the Lansdale Theatre was torn down, heartsick when the Tremont was demolished. Please, members of borough council, don't do this !
Brian Rox February 20, 2013 at 02:26 PM
The borough did not demolish the Tremont. The Tremont Hotel was offered for sale and no one bought it. Lansdale Historical Society has some great DVDs for sale about this... or check the library about those old glorious places.
Linda Donaldson February 20, 2013 at 03:35 PM
When the masonic lodge still owned their building, Dr. Strohecker's vast collection of historical artifacts graced their Main Street windows. For 2 days during a downtown festival, the Doctor's entire collection of memorabilia was on display as an open house. It was fantasic! He even had merry-go-round horses from the West Point amusement park. Afterwards, I wrote to the Borough Manager to suggest the borough should purchase a building downtown, encourage the Doctor to loan out his collection, and create a museum as a tourist attraction, charging admission. If Tony's idea of preserving the Borough Hall takes hold, such a trove of collectibles would be a great start. What ever happened to all those treasures, I wonder?

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