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Commission director weighs in on Carbon office project

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    This stained-glass window of Jesus as a child was created by an apprentice of Louis Comfort Tiffany. A shadow of his arms and legs can be seen through his tunic. The technique of embedding an image into the glass was lost when Tiffany died. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO

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    Representatives of St. Mark and St. John Episcopal Church fear the historic Tiffany stained glass windows would be in jeopardy if the rock is removed from the mountain behind the property.

Published February 22. 2019 12:41PM

A state historical commission is weighing in on the proposed office building project on Susquehanna Street in Jim Thorpe.

The county received a letter from Andrea L. MacDonald, director and deputy state historic preservation officer for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, after a borough resident raised concerns about the project.

Of specific concern is the bedrock removal, because of the close proximity to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

The state outlined the significance of the church, which is a national historic landmark, and said, “We are gravely concerned about the effects of demolition and construction activities on the structural integrity of the building. The church is among the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture designed by Richard Upjohn, one of the most influential ecclesiastical architects of the 19th century ...”

The stained glass was designed by Louis Tiffany, the letter points out.

“Buildings of this age and significance are irreplaceable and we urge the county to exercise extreme caution and sensitivity during the design and construction of your new facility. Specifically, we are concerned about the impact of demolition and excavation of the bedrock formation that the church and the county property will share.”

MacDonald highly recommended the county “engage experienced engineers to undertake the geotechnical studies to determine the risk construction may pose to adjacent properties.”

On Thursday, the county commissioners discussed the letter, saying they are thankful the state weighed in on the matter.

Commissioners’ Chairman Wayne Nothstein said that the letter’s concerns are ones that the county is already addressing through Vibra-Tech and other experts who are working on the project.

“We are doing everything we can to prevent any damage to the church,” he said.

Commissioner William O’Gurek added that the county plans to respond to the state with all the measures officials are taking in the planning of this project, as well as what monitoring will be happening during construction.

The commissioners then aired their thoughts following statements by Joe Marks of Jim Thorpe, who raised concerns about the cost of the construction, as well as made suggestions to build elsewhere.

“I’m not opposed to building another building, I’m not opposed of more parking,” Marks said. “I am opposed to not being accountable and spending the amount of money that it takes to perform something like this that doesn’t equal its value in return.”

Nothstein said the county is moving forward on the project as bids already have been awarded.

He invited anyone to go to the courthouse when court is in session and see just how cramped the building gets.

“We have to do what we think is best for the court,” Nothstein said, adding that years ago a previous judge sued the county for not providing the required staff.

Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard reiterated that the county has been transparent during the project which has been in the works for approximately two years.

O’Gurek echoed his colleagues’ thoughts and spoke about one point specifically that Marks made — accountability and affordability.

He said that in nearly two decades, there has only been one tax increase for Carbon County; as well as the elimination of the occupation tax.

“We absorbed the quarters for a third judge due to the caseload expanding,” he said. “We’re a sixth-class county with statistics rivaling second- and third-class counties. … I trust the taxpayers of this county will make their own decision on whether this board or prior boards did what they felt was best in the interest of Carbon County. Are we digging deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets than we have to? I don’t think so.”

Last week, Carbon County awarded over $12.6 million in contracts to eight companies that will construct the three-story office building and parking garage.

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