Tempers flare over Pocopson’s Barnard House

Debate over building gets ‘personal’

By Karen Cresta, Staff Writer, The Times

The fate of Pocopson's Barnard House sparked a heated debate during Monday night's Board of Supervisors meeting. Times' file photo.

The fate of Pocopson’s Barnard House sparked a heated debate during Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Times’ file photo.

POCOPSON – “I’m leaving. This is starting to get personal…,” said former township supervisor and former member of the disbanded Barnard House Steering Committee Lauressa McNemar as she exited the Pocopson Township board of supervisors’ meeting on Monday night.

Prior to her hasty departure from the meeting, McNemar questioned the board about the meeting minutes from July 11 regarding the comments that the Barnard House was not suitable for the township office to occupy.

The meeting minutes of July 11 read, “John O’Neal, Kennett Underground Railroad Center (KURC) Board President and Treasurer, as well as KURC Board Member Michelle Sullivan appeared before the Supervisors to discuss the status of the BH [Barnard House]. Sullivan expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Township to date to keep costs reasonable but noted that the objective for the BH has not been articulated by the current Board of Supervisors. Stumpo responded that the Board agrees that the BH is not appropriate as a Township Office. Instead, the Supervisors look to the possibility of using the facility as a meeting room for community groups, voting site, and establishing a reference library for abolition and Underground Railroad materials. She indicated that the Supervisors are waiting for feedback from the County Commissioners as to revising the covenants and restrictions on the property. Balsama stated that clearly it is the intent of the Supervisors to shepherd the preservation of this building as evidenced by the expenses paid to date that include the authorization for installation of security system on or before the end of July and replacement or preservation of doors and windows via the Keystone Grant. She noted the 3 independent consultants, as part of contracted work received by the Township in 2015, provided unsolicited comments confirming that the BH is not suitable for municipal offices… “

McNemar debated with the board that the three independent consultants never concluded or confirmed that the Barnard House was not suitable for a municipal office in the two reports she received. McNemar waived two of those reports in the air, presented them to the board and challenged them to find proof.

She requested that the board produce a basis for the reports that did not specifically analyze the space as part of their commission, and if they could not, that the minutes be corrected – publicly.

Supervisor Alice Balsama retorted and said that the three independent consultants walked through the building and raised concerns to its layout that prompted further evaluation.

The 2015 Meyner Associates’ report that McNemar provided to the board recommended that further exploration of other locations be done before using the Barnard House for municipal use.

The report stated, “…We believe that the proposed public meeting room in the Barnard House may be too small for the Township’s future needs. Even if the current wall is removed to make the public meeting room larger, it may still be too small for the Township’s future needs. Further, it appears that the administrative offices would be on the second floor of the Barnard House, which may provide building and handicapped access issues…It is our recommendations that the township prepare a master plan for the relocation of its administrative offices and public meeting room. This plan should include possible new locations, an architectural and floor plan for each option, and a cost/benefit analysis of each of the options.”

So far, the township spent more than $600,000 on renovations and more are needed.

“We have to be able to support the tax burden…We need to be thoughtful about it,” Balsama stated.

Supervisor Elaine DiMonte reminded all that no final decisions have been made as information is still being gathered. She said that the board met with Rep. Steve Barrar, R-160, and Sen. Tom Killion, R-9, on Aug. 11 at the site and they seemed to understand the board’s concerns.

McNemar got up from her seat in the front row and left the meeting as Randy Mims’, a township resident and member of the Historical Committee, was speaking about agreeing with the supervisors that more research is needed and suggesting a new committee consisting of representatives from the township’s Parks, Recreations and Trails Committee, the Planning Commission and the Historical Committee. Her remark as she left accused Mims of getting personal.

Mims said he would be not serve on the committee nor have voting power but would be happy to act as a resource as he would like to see the building restored. He suggested that residents contact the commissioners, senator and state representative with their concerns so that the restrictions placed on the building when it was sold to the township in 2008 could be amended.

In other township business, the board approved Kevin Gosselin as the township’s Emergency Management Coordinator and James Knightly as the fire marshal.

Also approved was the repeal of the Sterling Act passed in 1932. This Philadelphia wage tax does not remit any portion back to the municipality. The resolution, with the support of the Chester County Association of Township Officials, is requesting up to 1% be remitted back to the township.

The supervisors approved the 2016 Founders Day budget in the amount of $8,477. The ten-year anniversary of the event will take place on Sunday, Sept. 25 at noon at Pocopson Park on Locust Grove Road.


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