AUBURN — Progress is moving forward to save the Osborne Library, which was once part of prison reformer Thomas Mott Osborne's home.
The nearly 110-year-old building, located at 3 Fitch Ave. in Auburn, has been sitting vacant for over 20 years and has a slew of structural problems — the most pressing being a collapsed roof — that pose a safety risk. It was added to the Auburn Fire Department's vacant building registry in 2017 and in 2018, the city of Auburn's code enforcement department placed a demolish or repair order on the building.
During the Auburn Historic Resources Review Board meeting Tuesday, Osborne Center for Social Justice Vice Chair David Connelly said the group, who owns the property, recently paid Beardsley Architects and Engineers $5,000 to assess the condition of the building and provide an estimate for renovation costs. Connelly said that report should be ready in about a month.
The building was owned by the Auburn United Methodist Church until 2015 when it was sold to the social justice center for $1. In the early 2000s, the church received a grant from the state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Office to repair the roof. It was a $100,000 matching grant, meaning the state would contribute $100,000 to the project once the church raised $100,000 of its own.
In 2014, Syracuse-based preservation firm Crawford and Stearns was hired to lead the building's renovation, though the project never came to fruition. At the time, it was estimated to cost around $200,000 to repair the roof. However, the damage worsened over the winter and will now cost more than originally estimated.
The grant money was transferred to the center when it took ownership of the building and is still available to use, Director of Capital Projects and Grants Christina Selvek said. Connelly said the center has about $35,000 in the bank and another $10,000 in pledges.
"It seems to me, as an outsider coming from Los Angeles 32 years ago, that (the family) is just not well known and that structure is the only remaining structure from that mansion that they built," Connelly said.
While some of the Historic Resources Review Board members disagreed about the realities of salvaging the building, many expressed support for doing something to keep the Osborne family's memory alive in Auburn.
"My personal opinion is that the building is not salvageable," Richard Stankus said. "With that said, there is a tremendous amount of history with relevance to the city of Auburn that does need to be preserved, not necessarily in that building but in something that could be built there on that piece of property."
Connelly said he and the other social justice center board members would be heartbroken if the building is torn down.
"Are we willing to give up the building? Well we're not going to endanger the public," he said. "We have no personal investment in this. We have moral investment, we have emotional investment."
The board feels that whatever happens to the building, there should be some sort of museum or monument dedicated to the Osborne family, as they played a significant role in Auburn's history.
"The family is so integral to the history of Auburn," social justice center board member Rosemarie Romano said. "I hope we can find someway to commemorate the family and its role in the history of Auburn."