He said the rehabilitation project has been on and off the county’s capital plan during the last 10 years. “In those 10 years, the kilns continued to degrade. Their historic value has been compromised.”
County officials explained one reason for their deterioration is the kilns were constructed with interior brick, not exterior brick, because they originally were inside a building.
The county’s administration describes the kilns as “a key historical industrial heritage site that is experiencing serious decay.”
Commissioner Percy Dougherty said he is very supportive of the project but complained there have been many false starts on it over the years.
Dougherty said there also has been fund raising and community support, “but we haven’t been able to get this project going forward.
“I hope we can actually get something accomplished this time. This is one of the most important historic sites in the county. The whole Portland cement industry started right there.”
Molchany explained the county has the money to do the engineering study, which will determine “a long-term plan for the Saylor Park cement kilns.”
He said local cement companies have contributed $30,000 for the preservation of the kilns. He added several years back, the county set aside $86,356 for the rehabilitation project. He also said the county has secured a $200,000 grant for the rehab “in collaboration with a non-profit preservation society.”
He said the engineering study will be paid out of the $86,356 and/or the $30,000 from the cement industry, but not from the $200,000 grant.
“The cement industry has taken away from this valley for years,” said Dougherty. “They should be putting more than a mere $30,000 into this.”
Dougherty also said saving the cement kilns should not cost the county “a single dollar – other than staff time.”
He said: “Once this engineering study is done and we see what has to be done to stabilize the facility, this will enable local groups in that area to raise funds to accomplish what needs to be done.
“We need a good study to lay the groundwork so we can go out and mobilize the community to raise money to pay for this.”
After the meeting, Molchany said some people living in that area – “Coplay, Catty, Whitehall, Northampton” – want the county to spend unlimited money to restore the kilns to the way they originally were.
Dougherty said Lock Ridge Furnace, where iron was produced from 1868 until 1921, “also is falling apart. Something has to be done to stabilize these facilities.”
The remains of that iron-making operation are in Lock Ridge Park, also owned by the county, in Alburtis.