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Aiken County Council considering options for historic County Complex property

January 31, 2018 GMT

Aiken County Council is approaching a crossroads in its decision about what to do with the old Aiken County Government Complex on Richland Avenue West.

Making up the Complex are a four-story brick building and four other smaller structures, including one known commonly as the old Aiken County Council Building that is separated from the main property by Morgan Street.

The buildings haven’t been occupied since the $37.5-million Aiken County Government Center on University Parkway opened in 2014.

Prior to being the site of Government Complex, the Richland Avenue West location was the home of the old Aiken Hospital and, later, the old Aiken County Hospital.

“Council is considering several options for the old Complex and Council Building on Richland Avenue, and it probably will discuss the matter further at the next meeting (Feb. 6),” wrote Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian in an email Monday. “We are proceeding with the process to demolish all the buildings and a request for proposals for the demolition will probably go out this week. That will give us an idea of the cost to remove the structures, and then Council can determine the best course of action.”

The email was in response to the Aiken Standard’s request for a comment after Historic Aiken Foundation President Charlotte Wiedenman announced Sunday that a developer had made an offer recently for “the old Aiken County Hospital and the adjacent former County Council Building.”

Wiedenman was addressing the audience attending the Historic Aiken Foundation’s 2018 Preservation Awards Ceremony in the Stevenson-McClelland Building at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church.

“Last week, I was invited to be on a conference call with a developer who has a very incredible track record of historic preservation,” Wiedenman said. “His plans are to renovate it (the old Aiken County Hospital) into 60 apartments. He had his structural engineer go through it, and he (the engineer) saw no issues with the building and gave him the go-ahead.”

Wiedenman added that the developer would be seeking tax credits and other incentives available for the rehabilitation of historic structures.

“He’s brought the Historic Aiken Foundation in on this to give our support in the community and say, ‘Yes, we want to see it (the old Aiken County Hospital) preserved. We want to see it maintained. We want to see it used for the town,’” Wiedenman said.

A historical marker in front of the largest structure in the old Government Complex describes it as a “Colonial Revival building designed by the noted Augusta architect Willis Irving (1890-1950).” The Public Works Administration and the Duke Foundation funded the construction of the Aiken County Hospital, which opened in 1936. It’s use as a health care facility ended the mid-1970s.

Attorney William Tucker, a partner in the local Hull Barrett law firm, is representing the developer in the effort to acquire the old Aiken County Government Complex.

“I can’t tell you who he is until I ask his permission,” said Tucker, who was at the Preservation Awards Ceremony on Sunday. “He’s from nearby.”

Also Sunday, Wiedenman told Preservation Award Ceremony attendees about plans for the Fermata Club on Whiskey Road.

“The Historic Aiken Foundation has been working closely with the very nascent Fermata Foundation,” she said. “This is a nonprofit group associated with the Fermata Club that will allow them to raise funds to protect the historic structure (a clubhouse, which formerly was a gym). They have expressed an interest in a preservation easement for the property so that in the future, the entire property will be protected from development and it will remain in its historic state. That will be both a façade easement and protection of the grounds.”

The Fermata Club is a facility that offers swimming, tennis and social benefits to its members, according to its website.

The former Fermata School for Girls, which was founded in 1919, used to be located on the property. Fire destroyed the school’s main buildings, except for the gym, in 1941.

In 1952, 16 families leased the former school and grounds, cleaned them up and formed a social club, according to the Fermata Club’s website. By the time the pool there opened in the summer, there were 131 charter members.

“The idea is that the gym be renovated in a way that will make it a very beautiful event space here in Aiken and something that, as members of the community, we can continue to use,” Wiedenman said. “I have seen the plans, and they are very exciting. I expect that we will be hearing about fundraising efforts by the Foundation in the very near future.”

Currently, Fermata Club members and non-members can rent the clubhouse/former gym for a half-day or a full day for events.