Laurel residents get help in effort to save foundry Mayor sets Jan. 31 deadline for plan on funding repairs

December 29, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Laurel residents trying to save one of the suburban town's last ties to its milling roots are getting a little help from a Baltimore group and a state delegate.

The Neighborhood Design Center in Baltimore, a nonprofit group that works with grass-roots organizations on revitalization projects, plans to help Friends of the First Street Foundry research the cost of restoring the building, possible uses for it and sources to pay for restoration.

"We feel this is a big boost," said Sidney Moore, a leader in the campaign to save the industrial building. "It gives the group a lot more credibility."

Residents have struggled since October to come up with ways to save the building without using city funds. Laurel Mayor Frank P. Casula has set a Jan. 31 deadline for the group to figure out how to pay for repairs.

The state could be a source of needed money.

Del.-elect John Gianetti of Laurel has drafted a bill to grant the city $50,000 in state funds to help with restoration. With another $50,000 the city has designated to tear the building down, the Friends would have a start.

"That together would make a lot of money without dipping into any of the other funds," Moore said. "We're meeting in early Janu- ary with the Neighborhood Design Center. I'm looking forward to getting together to find out exactly what they can do for us."

Casula pushed the City Council in September to demolish the foundry at First and Little Montgomery streets to make way for a parking lot for the Department of Public Works.

The building and the 2 1/2 acres on which it stands are zoned industrial, a precious commodity in the small city that must keep its municipal functions within city limits. The city signed a 20-year lease on the building in 1990, but is exercising an option within the agreement to purchase the land for $500,000.

A consultant the city hired this year to assess the building and advise what repairs should be made estimated it would cost another $500,000 to repair it.

"It doesn't look bad, and it can be fixed, but the amount of money it would take to fix it is not worth it from a strictly economic standpoint," said Earnest J. Zaccanelli, city administrator.

Zaccanelli said even if residents were able to repair the building, it is next to public works property where workers wash trucks and gather leaves in huge piles before taking them to the dump.

"It's not the kind of environment where you'd like to have some kind of a business," he said. "The trucks are coming in and out all the time, the guys are outside yelling. I see where they're coming from, but as far as the dollars go, you have to think about it."

But a few historians and residents, some of whom helped develop Laurel's historic district along Main Street, think the 132-year-old building is worth keeping. The foundry, built in 1866 and named after machine-shop owner Thomas Fairhall, is the town's last connection to the mills that helped establish it in the mid-1800s, said local historian Karen Lubieniecki.

All of the town's mills had closed by the 1920s, and within 20 years, all but one were demolished. The last one burned in 1992.

Mill owners often commissioned Fairhall to build looms, weaving cards, gears and other equipment needed to run their businesses.

The foundry was converted into a flour and feed warehouse between 1908 and 1914. It remained a feed store until 1965, when fire burned out the building. After it was repaired, it was used as a commercial garage but was damaged in three other fires.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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