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8/29/2011
Councilman Weiner organizes community meeting with Nemours Foundation to save the historic Murphy House - News Journal

$50K offered to move 1840s building
A move would cost more than that; renovations estimated at $885K-$1.2M

Aug. 29, 2011   Written by ROBIN BROWN The News Journal 

The Nemours Foundation, which bought the Murphy House for $10 in 2008 from the state, last year proposed razing it.

In what community members are calling a "stay of execution," the Nemours Foundation has delayed its plan to raze the Murphy House , an 1840s farmhouse across Rockland Road from the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

The foundation now is offering $50,000 toward the building's move to another location, with an application deadline of Oct. 15, according to Chris Manning, Nemours' senior manager of public and community relations.

Nemours applied for a demolition permit Nov. 3, 2010. A public outcry followed the foundation's decision not to keep its public promise to restore the building, saying it could not justify spending projected renovation costs determined in an evaluation of the property last year.

The Historic Review Board of New Castle County held the permit for nine months, the most it can do legally. The building could have been razed as early as Aug. 3.

Residents, elected officials, the nonprofit Preservation Delaware and others have urged Nemours to reconsider demolition.

Wilmington-area resident Larry Hoover started a web page called "Save the Murphy House" at http://savethe murphyhouse.org/. And there is a Facebook group called the "Save the Murphy House Group."

New Castle County Councilman Bob Weiner said he and other interested parties were planning to meet with Nemours officials about the Murphy House. But he told The News Journal that, on a condition from Nemours, he could not disclose meeting details or grant reporters' requests to attend.

Weiner called the demolition delay "good news," but said he holds out little hope of finding an organization willing to undertake moving the building.

If moving is possible at all, he said, it likely would cost several times the $50,000 the foundation is offering.

Starting in 1992 and in place for more than a decade, agreements involving federal and state governments promised the state would "take steps to ensure the stabilization, restoration and adaptive reuse" and keep the Murphy House in good condition. Pacts also promised its "permanent preservation covenant" would ensure all repairs and restoration met federal preservation standards.

The building's permanent preservation was a written condition of the state selling the building to Nemours for $10 in 2008. State officials have said they thought the building was in good hands and area residents expected top-quality renovation.

Delaware Magistrate James R. Hanby Sr., a preservation activist whose family has been in the area since the 1700s, says Nemours should be ashamed of itself for betraying public trust.

Critics also say the cost argument is difficult to accept because Nemours knew the $1.2 million renovation estimate since 2008, spent $38.6 million to renovate the Nemours Mansion and Gardens and just began a $215 million expansion of the children's hospital.

Hanby has pointed out that Nemours' own estimate of renovation costs came in lower than the $1.2 million state estimate.

He was among those serving on the historic review board in the 1990s, when members -- appointed to advocate for preservation in the public interest -- worked with state officials and attorneys, including one representing Nemours' interests, to create the deed restriction to ensure its preservation.

But since Nemours' demolition plans surfaced, officials say the deed-restricting covenant cannot be enforced legally because, in documents, the restrictions were not specified as "running in favor" of any particular person or group. Without such a designation, they say, no one has the standing to enforce the preservation promise.

The state Department of Transportation had taken ownership of the two-story, Greek Revival house, also called "the Pink House" for its stucco color, in connection with earlier roadwork in the area. Road-widening left the house snug to the road, with limited access. Before selling the house to Nemours, DelDOT made sure the foundation was aware of a $1.2 million estimate it had received for the building's renovation, DelDOT officials say.

Since buying the house, Nemours has not made any major improvements. Last year, the foundation had a private company study the costs of renovation again.

Nemours got an estimate of $885,500, not counting major structural work, to use two floors as office space, spokeswoman Grace Gary said this spring, noting every expense had to be weighted against the foundation's central mission of caring for children. At more than $485 per square foot, for use as office space, foundation officials found the cost "an unfeasible amount," said Gary, executive director of the Nemours Mansion and Gardens. The house's configuration, stairs, location by the road, limited parking and access concerns also were cited as renovation problems.

Manning said he hopes the $50,000 being offered by the Nemours Foundation will help find an organization to adopt the building.

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