Erie County parks officials want to know just how badly a long-closed mansion at Wendt Beach in Evans has deteriorated.
The historic mansion in the county-owned park has been stripped of copper, flooded and burglarized in recent years, and the county and town want to know how much it would cost to restore.
"The longer we let these things deteriorate and fester, then they become totally obsolete as far as trying to renovate them and market them," said Legislature Minority Leader John J. Mills, whose district includes the Town of Evans.
County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz will ask county legislators next week to hire architectural firm Stievater & Associates to evaluate the extent of the deterioration and estimate how much money it would cost to restore the structure to a usable condition. The consultant would also be asked to suggest possible reuses for the building, said Peter Anderson, a Poloncarz spokesman.
"What the county wants to know is how bad a shape the building is in," Anderson said. "If nothing is done, it's going to continue to deteriorate to the point where it's going to need to be demolished."
But the idea of hiring a consultant to look at just one county parks building when so many are deteriorating has raised concern that the scope is too narrow in a parks system with many needs.
"Why would we be spending money to bring them back to code, and yet we don't have the manpower to operate these parks for our community to use?" Legislator Thomas A. Loughran asked during a recent committee hearing.
Loughran suggested that the county's money would be better spent evaluating all of its parks inventory to determine what it can continue to maintain.
But Parks Commissioner Troy Schinzel said the historic nature of the 1800s summer mansion at the park necessitates the county fully researching the building's options.
"We, the county, cannot just take buildings like the Wendt mansion and say goodbye and knock them down," Schinzel told legislators. "We would be in a worse pickle if we didn't do our research and hire a consultant to tell us the good, the bad, the ugly."
The Wendt Beach mansion, built in the 1800s as the summer home of Buffalo Forge magnate Henry W. Wendt, has seen a series of mishaps that have accelerated its decline in the last six years. Vandals in 2007 used blow torches and saws to rip copper pipe from its basement, flooding it for days before the damage was discovered. The building's alarm system at the time did not work.
Then, in 2010, vandals smashed dozens of windows on the building and broke in again.
"We need professional help as to whether or not it can be salvaged structurally," Mills said. "This is something that is beyond small shelters and caretaker homes."
Today, the building sits vacant on the shore of Lake Erie. Town of Evans officials hope it can be renovated and put to reuse as a public space with the help of grants or other funds.
"I think everyone understands that this has to be a public and private solution here," said Lori Szewczyk, director of community development for the Town of Evans, "that if we rely solely on grant funding to restore this property, it just might not be enough money to save it in time."
The Poloncarz administration, however, cautioned that it has no plan yet for the future of the building. A controversial proposal in 2006 to turn the building over to a private developer as a bed-and-breakfast fell apart after questions arose about the deal and the public's access to the park.
This study, Anderson said, would focus on the building's architectural integrity. The county set aside $30,000 in its capital budget to assess the Wendt Beach mansion and choose Stievater & Associates from three proposals submitted to the county this summer.
"Every year that goes by is a nail in the coffin for this property," Szewczyk said.