LITTLE VALLEY — Cattaraugus County lawmakers visited the county Memorial and Historic Building on Wednesday, but could only peek inside due to asbestos-laced plaster from the walls that littered the floor.
Accompanying members of the Strategic Planning Committee and other county officials on the visit were representatives from Citizens Advocating Memorial Preservation (C.A.M.P.), which has been seeking to preserve the building.
“It’s structurally OK,” said Mark Burr, director of engineering for the county’s Public Works Department. “There’s been some water infiltration.”
County Administrator Jack Searles prohibited any entry into the building, or the attached former Board of Elections building, due to the presence of asbestos. “It has delaminated from the walls” due to moisture.
It was nearly two years ago the County Legislature’s Public Works Committee agreed to demolish the building and the Board of Elections building after the Board of Elections moved.
Interested descendants of members of the 154th Civil War Regiment, made up of men from Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, asked the county to delay its demolition to pursue efforts to preserve it. The group of individuals later formed C.A.M.P.
After a preliminary look at the Civil War Monument and Historic Building, the committee, other county officials and C.A.M.P. members met in the third-floor committee room of the County Center across Court Street.
County officials held a closed-door discussion with County Attorney M. Mark Howden for about 20 minutes before opening it up to the C.A.M.P. members and media.
“The longer we wait to make a decision, the more deterioration will occur,” Burr told the committee. The brick and masonry building, dedicated in 2013, “never was very waterproof.” The building’s former use as the county museum “was not compatible to preserving artifacts from the Civil War.”
Asked whether the building could be preserved, Burr replied, “Absolutely. But there is a lot of work to be done. It’s a challenge.”
Public Works Commissioner Joseph Pillittere said the building was heated and crews continue to maintain it.
Nancy Barger of Lakewood, a member of C.A.M.P., said the Preservation League of Western New York had inspected it and declared it was not in bad shape. “I don’t think we would be here if we didn’t think it was a project we could work together on.”
C.A.M.P. is “limited in seeking funds for a building it does not own,” Barger said, acknowledging the county does not seem to wish to sell the monument. She said the group recently received 501(c)(3) status to collect tax-deductible donations. She disclosed a man in Minnesota recently sent the group $10,000 after reading about efforts to save the monument.
C.A.M.P. Chairman Thomas Stetz proposed the group “sit down with the county and work together to explore all the options” for the building. “We want to help you,” he added.
Estimates to restore the building range up to $1 million.
“This is unique,” Barger said. “It is a memorial.” She pointed to the county’s mission statement, which “emphasizes history and tourism.” She called the Civil War monument “a direct connection to the Underground Railroad.”
Strategic Planning Committee Chairman Matthew Keller, C-Olean, said he didn’t have a lot of information on the Civil War Memorial and Historic Building and welcomed any information C.A.M.P. officials could provide.
“That’s what we want — to talk, ” Stetz said.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)