Fenner fate tied to pair of choices

The historic Fenner House will either be sold or demolished, according to SUNY Fredonia officials.

State University of New York at Fredonia officials have moved a step closer to a decision regarding the former admissions building, the Fenner House. Whether that means selling the beloved historic building or demolishing it remains to be seen.

The university announced in a press release today that it has submitted two proposals to the SUNY Construction Fund to consider both options for the building at 178 Central Ave.

“Since the 2010 Facilities Master Plan, the issues with the structural integrity of Fenner House have been a concern, and as it exists, the house cannot be used for campus purposes,” said SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath. “There are feelings of nostalgia toward Fenner and its long history, but the truth is that Fenner is no longer usable as a functioning state building. The practical structural issues and finances required to renovate simply outweigh the sentimental value of the building.”

In January, Fredonia decided to move the admissions office to the sixth floor of Maytum Hall due to the building’s questionable structural integrity. Earlier this spring, rumors of possible demolition plans ignited the passion of the Fredonia Preservation Society. In a letter to the OBSERVER in May, members of the society protested a demolition, stating the 1868 house “… is another example of the necessity of understanding the importance of historic structures to the beauty of our village.”

The sentimental and historical value of the building is not lost on Horvath, who stated in the press release, “We also understand how some in the community would like to see the Fenner House remain. “So, in our efforts to consider all interests, we have asked the SUNY Construction Fund, which has oversight of all campus buildings, for guidance on both potential options of tearing the building down or selling it.”

Horvath went on to explain that although people “may see a charming building that looks to be in fair condition,” closer inspection by the Facilities Planning Office revealed undeniable problems, and the list is long. These problems include a decaying foundation, crumbling masonry, malfunctioning doors and windows and issues with vermin infestation.

Furthermore, the house does not meet ADA requirements, which require accessible restroom facilities. According to the study, “It has also been found that 100 percent of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning distribution system is in poor condition.”

Additional problems with the building are the result of inadequate repairs after a 1979 fire, according to the press release. At the time, the SUNY Construction Fund would not support a project to restore the building. A group of community volunteers made repairs using campus funds; however, the FPO said that “the repairs were performed with inferior materials and in ways that would not meet current construction standards.”

So what would it cost Fredonia to restore the building to operable conditions? According to the Facilities Planning Office, $2.1 million — which does not include aesthetic work needed for a typical office space. “It would take lifting the house up, doing a new foundation, and putting it back down, then rebuilding the entire structure,” said Vice President Michael Metzger. “It is simply a cost-prohibitive endeavor.”

The Fund has indicated that it is willing to provide the $330,000 needed to demolish the house and landscape the property. The demolition proposal is also being reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office, which will determine whether or not the building is eligible to be razed.

The second proposal, to sell the house, will be considered for factors including location, condition and the local real estate market.

In response to community leaders’ concerns with investments in Fenner House over the years, administrators explained that critical maintenance dollars are scant, and with the 62 buildings that comprise Fredonia’s campus, they don’t go far. According to the press release, the college received $1.2 million for minor critical maintenance last year. For perspective, Metzger said the work required to maintain just McEwen Hall’s concrete exterior was $3.5 million in 2017.

The Construction Fund will be considering the college’s two proposals, and they are expected to provide the college with reviews this fall.

Comments can be sent to mheyl@observertoday.com

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