The usually agreeable Town Council had a few tense moments at its last meeting, weighing the value of local history against the restraints of a modern-day town budget to decide what to do about the historic Watson House.
The Rocky Mount-based architecture firm told the town in February it would cost $226,462 to make the house accessible for public use. Becuase of its location in historic Knightdale, some of those costs are optional, but Mayor Russell Killen said he would guess there’s still about $100,000 in repairs that would need to be done.
“I’m not sure if there’s money to do something with it,” Killen said during the Council’s second dicussion of the cost estimate. Council moved the discussion to a meeting when councilor Mike Chalk would be present. “Any way you turn it, you’re (looking at) at least $100,000.”
The most pressing concerns for the Council were past indications of environmental hazards in the house, like mold, asbestos and lead paint, which the Council agreed needed to be addressed whether the house is converted into public space or left alone.
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Chalk, however, made it clear that he would like to see the house get some use.
“I just think it’s part of (Knightdale Station) Park and we should keep it,” he said. “This house is just a part of Knightdale history.”
When the town acquired the home in 2011, there was discussion about what it could be used for but ultimately, no decisions were made. The council hasn’t discussed uses for the house yet, but Chalk said it could be used as extra meeting space for residents and town committees.
But Killen wasn’t sure if that would warrant the cost of restoring the house.
“When you look at what you get out of it, I don’t know if it’s worth it,” he said. “It’s not something that everyone else wants to do ... I don’t know how when you look at the town’s need in two cash-strapped budget years ... how we spend $100,000 (on the house).”
Chalk was also concerned about money: How much would the town have to spend to take the house down and then build something in its place?
Chalk guessed it would take at least $50,000 to tear the house down, a cost partially increased because of asbestos in the structure.
He also asked council members if they would just leave the house if they chose not to repair it. Killen said that is a legitimate option, although the house would still require minor repairs.
The town is planning to get a more thorough report of the house’s asbestos, mold and other environmental factors by the first council meeting in April before making a final decision on possible use.