02 Parish HouseWell, 2020 marks Up & Coming Weekly’s 25th year as Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s weekly community newspaper. It’s been a great quarter-century, and we are thankful that we have been able to contribute to the growth and prosperity of the community. Yes, we are a unique publication, highly opinionated and focused on the good news and quality of life in Fayetteville, Fort Bragg, Hope Mills and Cumberland County. Our local newspaper is uniquely customized to serve our unique community. In the last two years, and in response to the needs and demands of our readers, we have modified our publication and operating procedures to meet the needs of our readers and better serve the community. During this time, we have added writers and reporters, created new sections, expanded distribution in Hope Mills and Spring Lake, brought on additional editors and expanded our online presence. We are proud of what we do and cherish the position we hold in the community.

Of course, nobody’s perfect, so we do have our share of distractors. Not all of our readers agree with our opinion or the positions we take on certain issues, and that’s OK. At least they are reading our publication — because these issues affect the people and communities that our newspaper serves. Every article and opinion piece we publish is a reflection of someone’s perception of this community. And everyone is welcome to contribute. However, our reporters and news correspondents like Earl Vaughan Jr., Jeff Thompson and Elizabeth Blevins are dedicated professionals charged with providing our readers with accurate and honest information about important community projects, local government initiatives and community events. Providing facts is their job. They take it seriously, and they do it extremely well. Below is such an example.

Here, Up & Coming Weekly’s Hope Mills correspondent Elizabeth Blevins clears the air around the swirling controversy over the future of the Hope Mills Parish House. Let us know what you think. On page 8, Hope Mills Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers also shares his opinion with us about the Parish House. I am often told that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts. We agree. However, you be the judge!

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.
    — Bill Bowman, publisher

On Dec. 16, the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners discussed the Parish House, one of several historic buildings owned by the municipality. While they didn’t vote, the board members did request estimates for demolishing the house. Days later, former members of the Hope Mills Historic Preservation Commission and its followers launched a social media campaign of misinformation designed to sway public opinion in favor of preserving the house. The HPC wants to preserve the building for use as a museum.

In July 2017, the Board of Commissioners met with members of the HPC to hear from local architect Gordon Johnson. Johnson noted the town’s inspection department had concerns about the deterioration of the building, specifically its sagging floors. His recommendation was the town look into other options before investing a large amount of money into restoration.

Pat Hall, then-chairman of the HPC, recommended the board do nothing with the Parish House while it was settling an ownership issue with the heirs of an adjoining property. That issue wasn’t settled until summer 2019.
Several months later, the HPC met with town staff, who confirmed the Parish House was no longer a viable option. They suggested the town might purchase a mill house on Trade Street as an alternative location for the museum.
During the November 2017 board meeting, it was announced the town had purchased the mill house and members of the HPC specifically requested the town manager inform the board they didn’t want to move forward with the Parish House. That evening, the HPC members posted their excitement on social media, and then explained the Parish House restoration would have been far too costly to continue.

In March of 2018, during the board’s budget retreat, a staff member officially informed the board the repairs for the Parish House were too expensive to move forward. Town manager Melissa Adams read a prepared statement from the HPC, indicating they didn’t have a problem with the municipality destroying the house but did not want them to sell the property. The board voted unanimously to demolish the Parish House during that meeting.

For nearly a year, the staff worked diligently on making modifications to the mill house, and there was no mention of the Parish House during official meetings by the Board of Commissioners. But in February 2019, the two groups met again, and Pat Hall declared the HPC was never notified of the board’s decision to demolish the house. Further, she insisted the HPC never advocated for its destruction but instead wanted it restored. Amazingly, the same board that voted to demolish it 11 months earlier, rescinded their votes and directed staff to begin restoration.

In 2017, the estimated restoration would have cost $220,000. A recent survey by an engineer indicated the cost has ballooned to more than $350,000. The building suffered damage from two hurricanes and was struck by a vehicle a year ago.

The historical integrity of the house has been hotly debated. The second floor was replaced after a fire in 1916, a kitchen and bathroom were added later, as well as siding and a front porch. Very little of the original historic structure remains.

Members of the HPC suggested they would raise the funds necessary for the reconstruction, but all but one has resigned. Now, the board is left to decide whether they should spend close to half a million dollars restoring the building or redirect that money to other more viable projects.

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