When it comes to the future of the locally cherished “Cottage in the Woods” that has fallen into disrepair, the Forks Township Board of Supervisors sent a firm message Thursday night -- tearing it down is not an option.
To the cheer of residents in attendance, the Supervisors voted 4-0 against a proposal to tear down the municipally-owned vacant building at 700 Zucksville Road and agreed to allocate $15,000 for immediate repairs to prevent further damage.
The 1945 stone Cottage and its 5-acre wooded property, which the municipality bought for $200,000 10 years ago as a possible future recreation site, had been allowed to fall into disrepair, resulting in significant water damage.
As a result, the township in recent months considered the possibility of demolishing the structure at an estimated cost of around $9,000, resulting in a group of residents mobilizing a grassroots effort to preserve the site at limited cost to local property taxpayers.
The charge to preserve the site is being headed by Forks Area Arts Society President Ellie Reismeier, who on Thursday night presented the Supervisors with a petition signed by 634 local residents in support of saving the Cottage, which many describe as resembling a gingerbread house.
Reismeier presented a proposal to create a municipal cultural center, arboretum, pavilion and nature trails at the site, and making part of the facility available to residents and groups for social functions.
“Saving this building will benefit the entire community,” she said. “Forks Township has already lost so much of its history and woods in the name of progress.”
She and other residents are planning a series of upcoming fundraisers to limit the municipality’s financial burden to save the site. Experienced grant writers have agreed to help locate potential funding sources, said resident Bonnie Green.
Township officials said the $15,000 approved for repairs is only designed as an immediate stop-gap. Work will include repairing slate roof shingles, installing gutters and anything else that can be readily done by municipal workers to protect the building from further water damage before winter. Officials agreed to continue running the heat in the building this winter to help prevent further damage.
Marcus Brandt, an area historic preservation consultant and Lehigh University professor, agreed to donate consulting services to assist municipal workers in doing the immediate repairs. Brandt said he is confident the immediate repairs to seal the building from further damage can be done for about $8,000.
Once the building is sealed, officials said the township will need to bid work to remediate the presence of asbestos, mold and lead paint.
Township officials are estimating a total cost in the range of $80,000 to fully remediate and renovate the building for public use.
Reismeier and other residents supporting the Save the Cottage effort said they would do their part in raising as much money as they can to renovate the site.
Resident Rob Leiser said he feared that demolishing the building would have eventually led to the clearing of its surrounding woods to make space for a parking lot for adjacent athletic fields.
While supporting the repairs to the Cottage, Supervisor John O’Neil said he was alarmed that “we let go a piece of property the township owns and now we have to rectify that.”