ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The landmark cement kilns near the Lehigh River in Coplay, Lehigh County, have been deteriorating for many years.

Lehigh County officials want to do an engineering study to help determine the feasibility of rehabilitating the kilns, which are the focal point of the county’s Saylor Park.

More than 100 years ago, the 90-foot-tall kilns helped make the county the center of the Portland cement industry.

“They are in dire need of repair,” said Rick Molchany, the county’s general services director. He wants to get started on the project “as quickly as we can.”

He said the county intends to take a serious look at what must be done to restore at least one, and possibly all nine, of the kilns.

In 2000, said Molchany, $330,000 was spent just to “minimally restore” four of the nine kilns.

“Looking at the 2000 numbers, my sense is we will not have the money to do all nine,” he admitted.

Just doing the engineering study will cost $34,750, according to Molchany.

He declined to guess how much actual rehabilitation might cost, indicating determining that is one reason for doing the study.

On Wednesday night, Molchany explained the plan to Lehigh County commissioners, whose approval he needs to proceed.

Commissioner Michael Schware said the four kilns that had work done on them 14 years ago still are in good shape, but the other five “are in various stages of falling down.”

While Molchany said fences are around those kilns, Schware questioned whether the fences are far enough back to protect people in the park from falling debris. Molchany promised to check the fencing to ensure public safety.

A bill introduced to commissioners would amend the county’s five-year capital plan to include architectural/engineering consultant services for the Saylor Park kilns.

That bill states “the county would like to preserve this valuable historic resource as long as possible.”

The commissioners will take final action on that bill at their Aug. 13 meeting.

Molchany is optimistic it will be approved because four of the nine commissioners are co-sponsors.

After the meeting, he explained the commissioners have to amend the plan because “the capital plan they approved last October did not include me spending $35,000 on engineering.”

He intends to return to the commissioners with a recommendation that a specific engineer be hired to do to the work, which he hopes can be completed in autumn.

Molchany noted the National Park Service recognizes the kilns as an historic site. They are in the park service’s Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

From 1893 to 1904, the Coplay Cement Company kilns were used to produce Portland cement, according to the park service.

Molchany said in 1875, the first Portland cement was manufactured in the United States on that site.

By 1900, the Lehigh Valley provided the nation with 75 percent of its cement, according to the park service.

In the 1920s the building that surrounded the kilns was demolished and the top 30 feet of the kilns were removed.

The county acquired the kilns in 1976.

Molchany said a museum on the site has been closed for at least 15 years and also is in disrepair.