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Black Horse Inn

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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: July 19, 2007
Byline: Joe Barron

Next phase of inn restoration OK'd

The Black Horse Inn continued to stir controversy last week as the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners approved a $1.04 million contract for repairs to the building.

At the board's business meeting July 11, Republican commissioners and several Springfield residents sought definitive limits on the amount of taxpayers' money the township will spend on the inn's rehabilitation.

The board's Democratic majority declined to limit the options of future commissioners, however, and defended money spent on the inn as an investment in a township asset.

"I don't see tying the hands of future boards," Commissioner Alison Peirce said.

Responding to a suggestion that the project be placed on hold until more money could be found, Commissioner Jeff Harbison said the township had made a commitment to preserve the Black Horse, and he did not want to see it become a boarded-up symbol of the commissioners' inaction.

"We can't go back and plow it under," he said.

A business plan adopted by the board July 11 estimates total restoration costs at $2,368,062, about $800,000 higher than the initial estimate of $1.5 million.

The plan sets a fundraising objective of $2.45 million and projects annual income to the township from the completed building at $60,072, with annual operating expenses of $36,756.

To date, $1,144,701 has been raised for the inn, much of it from federal and state grants, Township Manager Don Berger said.

The township has contributed $577,207 to that amount, Berger said — $225,000 from the capital reserve account to help pay for initial phases of the renovation, and $352,207 in matching funds for a $500,000 state grant.

The board has made no further pledges, Berger said, and in discussions with the township administration, the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike, the civic group managing the renovation fund, stated their willingness to reimburse the township for its contributions beyond the $225,000 from the capital reserve.

Board President Kathleen Lunn has stated, however, that repayment would depend on the success of the Friends' fundraising efforts.

Peirce, who joined the board after the discussion between the township and the Friends, questioned the legality of requiring payment from a private, nonprofit group.

The business plan divides the rehabilitation of the Black Horse into three phases. Phase I, which is complete, involved the stabilization of the building and replacement of the roof and windows.

Phase II, the subject of the $1.04 million contract, will include a complete exterior renovation, interior structural repairs, the installation of a new stairwell, and the sealing of the basement with a concrete floor.

Phase III, which has not been scheduled, will involve installation of plumbing, heating and electrical wiring. A resolution passed by the board requires that a minimum of 50 percent of required funding be received or under contract before Phase III can proceed.

Commissioner Robert Gillies introduced an amendment to the resolution requiring 75 percent of the funding be received before Phase III proceeds, and capping the township's contribution at $485,000.

His amendment failed when Peirce, who introduced the resolution on Phase III, declined to accept it.

The vote on Peirce's Phase III resolution was 4-3, with Republicans Gillies, James Dailey and Glenn Schaum dissenting.

Gillies switched sides, however, on the resolution to award the contract for Phase II, which passed by a vote of 5-2.

His goal was to limit the spending of township money on the Black Horse, he said, and not to block the project.

"My battle will have to be on the next phase," he said.

The vote awarded the construction contract for Phase II to Smith Construction of Bensalem, which submitted the low bid of $1.39 million

Under Peirce's resolution, the board reduced the net cost of the contract to $1,035,322 by deleting six elements of the job and accepting a value engineering report from the contractor suggesting less expensive ways to complete the project.

Peirce also denied a rumor, brought up by Bruce Kullman, a resident of Lyster Road, that the board planned to assess $250 from every household in the township for the renovation of the Black Horse.

Peirce asked Kullman to name his source for the rumor, and when Kullman declined to respond, she said, "You might ask them what they've been smoking."