BROOKSVILLE — Although it wasn't technically needed, the group looking to begin renovations of the 164-year-old manor house at Chinsegut Hill got the blessing of the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday to choose at its own expense a local company to perform a structural analysis of the building.
Friends of Chinsegut board member Christie Anderberg said her group interviewed two inspection companies and decided to spend $14,100 to hire Preservation Resource of Brooksville to evaluate the historic edifice and come up with estimates on how much it would cost to restore it.
"We're ready to get moving quickly," said Anderberg, who has spent the past two years spearheading the effort to keep Chinsegut Hill in public hands and off the state's surplus land list. "Once we know what we're up against, we'll be able to formulate a plan of what it will take to get the house ready for the public to visit."
However, that depends on whether the county will go through with its plan to lease Chinsegut Hill from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the agency that currently controls the property. In January, the County Commission approved a plan for its staff to proceed toward a five-year lease for the house and the surrounding 114 acres, and to subsequently sublease it to Anderberg's group as a multipurpose tourist destination and education and nature center.
However, commissioners said they needed to know first whether the structure, which has sat vacant and in disrepair since the University Of South Florida vacated it nearly four years ago, was even salvageable.
Appearing before commissioners, Anderberg said that while preliminary inspections have shown the structure suffers from progressive wood rot, water and termite damage, only a top-to-bottom inspection will reveal how extensive the damage is. That, she said, is why her group was willing to gamble its own money on paying for it.
"It's important to us that you be able to make a fully informed decision before signing a lease," Anderberg said.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he worried that the lease plan might be falling behind schedule, and wondered why Anderberg's group was ordered to get county approval to hire an inspector it had agreed it would pay for.
"We are not the deciding factor here," Dukes said.
Anderberg said money to pay for the inspection will come from the $27,600 her group received from a state historic matching grant fund. She said her group is required to apply the funding to the Chinsegut Hill effort by June 30.
Other deadlines loom as well. County Administrator Len Sossamon said the DEP has given the county until May 15 to decide whether it wants to enter into a lease agreement. After that, the property could be put up for sale.
Anderberg said that it will take an estimated 60 days for Preservation Resource to complete its inspection and to issue a report on the manor house.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.