ST. MARYS — Orange Hall, a three-story antebellum mansion built around 1830, is the most historically significant and recognizable structure in St. Marys.
It’s also considered among the 10 most endangered historic sites by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
Nearly $500,000 in improvements were completed on the building’s exterior in 2014, but the interior has some structural problems the city cannot afford to repair.
During a special-called workshop Monday, Orange Hall Foundation members were criticized for not doing enough to ensure the longterm survival of the building.
A house jack in the basement holds up part of the structure because of problems with at least one single guest. It will cost $50,000 to repair, city officials estimated.
“Until that structure member is done, nothing else matters,” City Manager John Holman said.
The workshop was the first held since councilwoman Elaine Powierski conducted an evaluation of the city’s appointed boards and committees. One recommendation was to hold annual meetings with each committee to improve communication and establish goals.
Powierski, who also serves as the city’s liaison to the foundation, said both the city and foundation are to blame.
“What is difficult is that old habits and comfort zones must be left behind in order for the change to occur,” she said.
The foundation has been “comfortable” hosting small events that don’t generate much money such as Easter egg hunts, ghost tours, pictures with Santa and prom photos, she said.
“If the foundation and the city continue to function as they have in the past, there is no question it will have a significant negative impact on the longevity of the building,” she said.
Powierski recommended establishing clearly defined and mutually agreed goals, appointing board members with the skills and motivation to hold successful fundraisers and changing the public perception of the foundation.
“Several community members have expressed interest in providing leadership, ideas and financing but felt that change was not welcomed so they were hesitant to get involved,” she said. “Whether real or perceived, this community perception is a major deterrent to both attracting members and community fundraising.”
Cory Sant, the foundation’s chairman, said the foundation has undergone a major change in membership and is currently seeking volunteers to fill five vacant positions.
The goal is to have a fully staffed, functional and active board of directors, establish annual fundraisers and identify grants to help pay for the structural work needed on the building.
Sant said he and other board members want the city to fill the rest of the vacancies with motivated people who want to protect Orange Hall and make other improvements to the grounds.
Sant cautioned city officials that they need to appoint people willing to take on responsibilities. One or two people can destroy the functionality of a board, he said.
“We’ve done tremendous things with the people we have here,” Sant said. “We need consistent, dedicated people who are capable of thinking on their own.”