Town Hall a shining beacon of conservation

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Weston Newton

I was pleased to be able to attend the ribbon cutting in late May for the newly renovated Bluffton Town Hall. It had been under way for just about a year and I'm certain everyone was glad to have the renovation complete, with a return to some kind of business-as-usual.

I was not one of those folks trying to serve their constituents and customers while working from dispersed offices, but I believe the inconvenience was more than worth it.

The renewed building is beautiful, well designed, seemingly laid out for efficient customer service. The new council chambers, named for my friend, Emmett McCracken, was particularly well done.

It was also a treat to see so many Bluffton folks in attendance. Former mayors Hank Johnston and Emmett McCracken were there, as was my friend, Laura Bush, retired long-time school board member, as well as two active school board members, Rachel Wisnefski, and current board secretary, William Smith.

I was also happy to see my friend Harry Williams, mayor of Hardeeville. And to make the afternoon complete, I got to chat with the always-engaging Joanie Heyward. It was a pleasant afternoon.

The renovation of the building, probably the third or fourth since it was the dilapidated Bluffton High School, was impressive for a number of reasons.

Firstly, several consultants had strongly suggested that a new town hall be constructed, first in Bluffton Village, then in the Buckwalter area, and were respectfully disregarded by council.

Instead of spending $12 to 14 million for a new stand along building, they spent around $4.5 million to renovate the strong bones of an older structure that will probably serve for at least a decade.

Such a prudent strategy is also consistent with the Bluffton ethos of repurposing and renewing older buildings with much life still left in them.

It is also part of the mission of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society (BHPS) to encourage such conservation strategies. We are an area with a wealth of history, which is reflected in what is known as our "built environment."

Originally, this ethos was simply because we were a poor area and could not afford to take down structures with useful life still in them. When we were no longer a poor area, we found that saving, repurposing and renovated historic buildings added to the reasons why folks loved Bluffton, and wanted to visit, and many of those wanted to live here.

These are also people who make for excellent neighbors. They kind of "get" the whole Bluffton sensibility.

I was helped in my understanding of this seeming paradox by spending some time with BHPS executive director, Kelly Logan Graham, at the ribbon-cutting event. The organization is storing much of the BHPS archive in the new, climate-controlled town hall.

Kelly was kind enough to share the Caldwell Archives with me, as well as some other fascinating historic documents, all the while sharing plans for proper cabinets and other fixtures that not only protected the archives, but made them easier to access.

In summary, I was impressed with the renovation, delighted with the turnout, and happy to spend some time with Kelly. He is finding his niche, late in his career, in an area where he brings a great deal of passion and professionalism.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov

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