NEWBERRY — The grounds surrounding Community Hall downtown will soon get a refreshed look, according to Matt DeWitt, assistant city manager for the City of Newberry.
With recent updates downtown including in Memorial Park, street trees and planters added down Main Street to soften the environment, benches to help welcome visitors, and the implementation of a facade grant program that’s helped spruce up some buildings, DeWitt said it came to their attention that the grounds surrounding Community Hall were not quite up to the same standards.
Although the area surrounding Community Hall will remain the property of Newberry County, DeWitt said they worked with the county to take over the maintenance of the property, so that the city could insure it was being maintained, as the property is a focal point of downtown.
DeWitt said one of the city’s biggest issues with the space in front of the building was the uneven terrain that presented obstacles to women in high heels and especially the elderly when navigating the Community Hall grounds while trying to shop and have dinner downtown.
The cobblestones currently surrounding the grounds are not historic and were originally installed in 1974.
“The city envisioned a more friendly and inclusive environment to allow people to enjoy the grounds more often than just for events such as Oktoberfest and Christmas,” DeWitt said.
With assistance of the city’s Architectural Review Board and a professionally retained architect, DeWitt said they came up with a plan to soften the entrance of Community Hall with the addition of grass.
However, during demolition this past week, DeWitt said they discovered a brick base underneath the cobblestone that mirrors that within the streets downtown. Because of this, the city is now revamping plans to be sure it maintains the historical integrity of the area.
“We plan to have a new design laid out with the architect in the near future based on what we discovered,” DeWitt said.
Jim Clamp, member of the Newberry Historical Society, said the bricks the city has found were originally placed in 1911, at the same time the bricks were laid along the streets downtown, but he believed portions were removed in front of Community Hall when the cobblestone was laid down.
Clamp’s suggestion for the city was to put grass above the brick and make a permanent note there that the original bricks were underneath for the future in case anyone were to desire to restore it.
“We wouldn’t be destroying history, just covering it up for the time being,” Clamp said.
DeWitt said although that was an original thought, that plan would not be beneficial simply because the bricks would be the root base for the newly planted grass. The architect warned the city the grass would die within a year due to becoming root-bound and needing more soil.
“The city always wants to do our best to preserve the historical fiber of the Newberry community while finding a way to make changes that improves an area. This will mean finding a way to emphasize the historic brick in our new design while still creating a friendly multiuse environment,” DeWitt said.
Ted Smith with the Newberry County Chamber of Commerce is excited about the changes to the grounds as their offices are located in the basement of Community Hall.
Smith said for a long time he has felt that Community Hall had been neglected. Although Smith said the county did a good job restoring the building inside and out, the grass and shrubbery needed work.
“If I have someone who has never been here (Newberry) before, I want them to drive up and say ‘wow,’” Smith said. “I’m excited about what is happening. It’s a guaranteed improvement over what we currently have.”