History Behind The Library Purchase

The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy has tossed around the idea of a headquarters for a number of years, ever since we’ve been given donations of books, slides and other material to develop an archive of caving in our region. Available space at the various members’ homes where the items are now stored is at a minimum, and MAKC equipment and donations are everywhere from Renick, West Virginia, where John Pearson is storing our pressure washer; to Cambridge Springs, Pa., where Phil Gowaty and Sue Moore store financial records; to Monroeville, Pa., where Paul Damon, Sr., is storing books and slides of the Frank Mielcarek Collection; to Derry, Pa., where the Metzgars are storing the tarp and many of the sales items (Phil and Sue have sales items, too). The Metzgars also have two map cabinets donated to MAKC by former board member John Shero. One is full of a complete set of Pennsylvania topographic maps, donated by John Pearson. The other is full of Kim Metzgar’s cave map collection, to be donated to MAKC. Bruce Sundquist, better known as the author of numerous hiking trail guides, and who used to cave with Sierra Club, recently donated his old caving equipment to us. We also received a recent donation of a large format map digitizer from the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, which is being stored by Jeff Jahn of Front Royal, Va.

Board members almost need a scorecard to keep track of what we have and where it is. Then there are the mentioned in passing future donations—another map collection, one to two library collections, large and small, and a possible periodical collection. The hold-up on those is lack of a space to put them without them getting mixed up with members’ own personal collections. Kim Metzgar also plans to donate cave files for caves that she has mapped and written up.

Additionally, there is no place for persons interested in using the collection to do research to actually do the research, or a place o display any of the items.
Thus, as noted above, we’ve been tossing around the idea of a headquarters. But, just as with cave acquisitions—right place, right time, right price—the headquarters needed to wait. Right place, right time, right price has finally come together with a property at 137 E. Campbell Street, Blairsville, which is about five miles from the Hillside area, one of the most famous and popular caving areas in the state of Pennsylvania.

Chairman John L. Long appointed a committee consisting of Paul Damon, Jr., Kerry Speelman and Tom and Kim Metzgar, to look into potential headquarter sites. Several years ago Bob and Bev Danielson gave a donation of $10,000 for the establishment of a headquarters in the Hillside area. There has been no action from a landowner in that area and MAKC decided it could no longer wait.

The MAKC has decided to honor their contribution, plus an additional pledge of $10,000 from Bob and Bev (in the form of a challenge grant), by naming the new headquarters in their honor—The Bob and Bev Danielson Library and Cave and Karst Education Center.

Here’s a summary of MAKC headquarters search committee strategy:

• Buy a place that requires the least amount of work so it will be immediately useful to us.

• Avoid “extreme fixer-uppers” that would not be ready for occupancy for many months, and would require expensive and extensive work for upgrades. Some buildingsmight actually be too large for our needs, because they would require larger monthly expenses to maintain a lot of empty space, and would “Break the Budget” due to high renovation costs.

• While other options shouldn’t be discarded, by consensus, we find the Blairsville Borough area to fit most of our needs.

• Treat the headquarters structure as an investment that could be sold in the future, or retained for future rental income. Future potential cave acquisitions may include residential or commercial structures, where the headquarters could be moved or expanded.

• Use the headquarters structure as an asset against which we could borrow money for cave purchases.

• Carefully budget MAKC income and expenses in order to maintain a positive cash flow.

• Seek sponsorships for projects, for monthly payments similar to our sustaining memberships.

• If possible, ask donors of material things to contribute towards “perpetual care” of their donated items.

* Assure that adequate physical security measures are put in place before we begin storing valuable items in the building. This may include an alarm system that features smoke detectors or motion detectors, and a subscription to a monitoring service, which could lower insurance payments.

* Install a ramp for handicapped access and to facilitate moving items in and out without having to traverse “backbreaking” steps.

* Obtain a professional assessment of the structure with a list of goals for upgrading it to meet our needs, along with associated estimated costs.

* Since we’re a conservancy, we should demonstrate, where possible, that our building is energy efficient, which also saves us money on monthly expenses.

Members of the committee looked at sites in Tannery Hollow, Shirey Run, Hillside and Bolivar, as well as one in Huntingdon County. We also found four suitable sites (under $50,000) to look at in Blairsville, which we came to conclude was the most advantageous locale, for reasons listed later in this report.
John Long noted in his March report to the board that “the comittee to locate a home for the MAKC has been quite busy. Phone calls and communications have taken place over a few weeks.

“Four properties were viewed on March 4 by myself, Phil Gowaty and Sue Moore, Paul Damon, Jr,, Mike Kern, and Tom & Kim Metzgar.

“We were treated to a plethora of of views (none of which will appear in “Better Homes and Gardens”).

“Afterwards we regrouped at the local coffee house for discussion and agreed on one above all others as viable.”
John noted that on “Friday, March 20th. Tom Metzgar and I met the bulding inspector at the house. We spent a couple hours with him, drilling him for as much info as we could think of. The inspector was quite accommodating to our questions.

“The inspector performed a thorough basic inspection and gave the house a B- rating. This is higher than I expected. … He found to house to be sound in the important areas: Roof, foundation, plumbing, gas lines and the electrical box (we could run a small industry with the service box).

“Tom and I introduced ourselves to the borough manager to inquire as to the zoning (we’re good).”

Tom Metzgar summarized the positive and negative points of the Campbell Street property, as noted below.

Positive points:

• Blairsville Boro monitors cameras covering the municipal parking lot across the street from the subject property.

• Across the street at the property’s rear is the old Blairsville Armory, now a Community Center.

• Nearly every residential property along East Campbell Street is neatly maintained. In fact, the property that we’re buying is probably the poorest-kept of them all. That, in my opinion, is a plus for us, since we can significantly upgrade it to meet the surrounding higher standards.

• The property is one block from Blairsville’s Municipal Building, which houses the police department. Blairsville has a large and active police department. As John Long mentioned, the building is within a “transition zone” of mixed residential and business uses.

• The streets on all sides of the property are paved and well-maintained.

• Sidewalks, ditto.

• The sidewalks are cut for handicapped access, which also helps when loading and unloading.

• We observed street lights in front and behind the property.

• There’s a fire hydrant about 50 feet from the front door.

• The Fire Department is two and a half blocks down the street.

• The U.S. Post Office is three blocks away, and some P.O. boxes remain available for rental if we choose not to have mail delivered to our address.

• Within two blocks of the property are the following: A branch office of the MAKC’s bank, another bank, an Elks Club, a state liquor store, a Sheetz, a Bi-Lo grocery store, two pizza shops, a funeral home, a large medical office complex, Blairsville Area Historical Society, Blairsville Public Library, plus numerous other amenities.
Negative points:

• A 35 foot high spruce tree in the front yard leans towards the house and its branches encompass the neighbor’s power and phone lines.

• Two flimsy basement windows and a basement bulkhead entry point all require immediate security upgrades before we would want to place anything valuable in the building. These upgrades would also substantially enhance the ability to keep heat in, and bugs out.

• Several stumps require removal to avoid providing homes for carpenter ants, and to upgrade the landscaping appearance.

• The garage door is missing and its windows are gone, so we’ll need to add those items prior to moving a mower and other typical garage items onto the property.

Otherwise the garage is not bad, but it needs to be jacked up and a better footer installed, plus the siding is just plain hideously ugly. However, it is grandfathered into borough restrictions, so we definitely don’t want to demolish it. Permits for yard sheds and garages are difficult to obtain, and their sizes are severely restricted to footprints much smaller than the existing garage.

The site will also provide a permanent site for meetings, and allow for the meeting schedule to be planned well in advance. Currently, the schedule rotates between board member homes and MAKC preserves.

A small apartment behind the main house may also provide room for expansion, a future student rental, or other storage and meeting space.
(Compiled from board and committee reports and emails).