HOLLIDAYSBURG - Rumors of Highland Hall's future have percolated in the borough for years, with a task force formed last August to save the historic structure after its owner, RADD Development Co., asked in June for permission to raze it.
The building, which was once a girl's school, an Army radio school, a Franciscan Order of the Roman Catholic Church school for young men and site of county offices, has stood vacant for years.
All of that might change with a little luck and a lot of help from the state Legislature.
Andrew Haines, chairman of the borough's Historical Architecture Review Board and executive vice president of S&A Homes in State College, announced Thursday his company plans to enter into a site agreement with RADD, and if Haines can secure financing, he eventually hopes to turn the building into independent-living apartments for residents ages 62 and older.
The announcement was met with shock and joy from a handful of residents who attended the public meeting to discuss the borough's historic district homeowners' manual.
Carol Stevens, a borough resident and former Architectural Review Board member, said she was thrilled because Highland Hall's "got a history that's extremely valuable." She said the stone for the building was dug from the ground on which it now stands and is the only building of its kind in the country.
Haines warned that the deal is not set, and being able to sort out the finances, some of which are dependent upon receiving grant money, might be difficult and take some time.
It's also a longshot, he said, adding that 90 groups are applying for only 30 grants.
Borough Manager Mark Schroyer said the hall's owners had secured a $350,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development four or five years ago, but because a development plan wasn't put in place, that money had to be diverted to other areas within the borough.
Haines said because the DCED was willing to award grant money before, he hopes it will be again. He's already contacted state Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, and state Rep. Jerry Stern, R-Martinsburg.
"Some sections are in very, very bad shape, as you know," he said. "The building's deteriorating, and something's got to be done very soon."
If S&A gets its grant, the rest of the money will be secured through conventional financing, low-interest loans and a series of tax credits, the equity from which Haines said will total $9 million.
The project cost exceeds $10 million, he said.
Haines said he hopes to know by July whether the plan, which he's been working on for some time, will work. He said this is a last-ditch effort to preserve the historic building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Not only is the community invested, but Haines said he has a personal stake in it as well.
"I live four blocks away [from Highland Hall]," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.