By Nick Nunn, Staff Writer
More than a dozen citizens attended a meeting of the Merchants Hall Preservation Society (MHPS), held by Kathi Russell on Thursday, Aug. 22 at the Madison Tea Room, to discuss the condition of Merchants Hall – formerly the Mapp-Gilmore Funeral Home, located at 200 West Washington Street – and her plans to go before the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) during their September meeting in order to resubmit her plan, which she stated during the meeting, “has never changed.”
Russell’s plan, as outlined during the MHPS meeting, is to use a method known as “deconstruction,” which will enable her to salvage as much of the current building as possible.
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), a body that Russell cited on several occasions during the meeting, deconstruction is, “the process of carefully dismantling a building for the purpose of salvaging as many of the construction materials and components as possible.” Those materials and components may then be used in the reconstruction of the building.
The NTHP acknowledges that deconstruction may “help protect community character” but only recommends deconstruction “after all avenues for the continued or adaptive reuse of a building have been exhausted.”
“It’s a wonderful process,” said Russell about deconstruction. “This is exactly what we should be doing.”
“I can’t reverse the damage,” continued Russell. “I didn’t cause the damage, but I know how to fix it.”
Russell used pictures and diagrams of a building that had been successfully deconstructed in Newport, R.I. as an example of how the process can be the best for a building which is beyond repair.
During her presentation, Russell also noted the possibility of using concealed solar energy panels on the top of the building in order to provide electricity for the kitchen and laundry rooms. She also expressed an interest in creating a small garden on site for tomatoes and cucumbers in order to make the building more “green.”
Russell also wants to extend the sidewalk in front of the building to be contiguous with the sidewalk in front of the James Madison Inn.
Responding to recent concern from the HPC about open windows in the building, Russell stated that, “There haven’t been windows in those openings in 20 years,” and held up a piece of plywood that had been hanging in the window instead of glass until recently.
“To put windows on the building would be like putting windshield wipers in a car with no engine,” said Russell.
Turning to the first time her plans were denied by the HPC, Russell expressed dissatisfaction with the way she feels rejected applicants are treated by the HPC, saying that they “send them out into the storm, letting them fend for themselves” without knowing what they should do next.
“This is a breakdown,” continued Russell. “This isn’t brain surgery, this is brick and mortar. We can do it. We need the HPC to agree it is a good idea.”
Russell asked those in attendance to come to the Sept. 10 meeting of the HPC, when she will address the commission about the building.
“I hope you all will join us,” said Russell, indicating that the level of involvement by the community will affect the HPC’s decision. “The better the understanding, the easier the task.”