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Historic building scheduled for repairs

After years of debating the fate of a historic but deteriorating clapboard house, City Council members appear finally to have a schedule for fixing the building before it crumbles to the ground.

For about 75 years, the shotgun style house on Exeter Street near City Hall has been home to the Woman's Club of Oldsmar. The group has pleaded with the city to save the tiny building.

Earlier this year, the city applied for a $96,700 state grant _ the city would have to chip in about half of that amount as a local match _ to fix the building.

The restoration would include repairing the building's foundation and other structural problems, and bringing a restroom into compliance with state accessibility rules. According to the city's new schedule for the project, the process of finding a company for the repairs will begin in February.

"There's a plan, and there's a schedule," said Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland. "It's been signed, sealed and it will be delivered. You can count on that."

But members of the Woman's Club have heard these promises before.

"They finally have a schedule that they will do something, but we just have to hold them to it," club president Jean Jorgenson said.

City officials had planned to move the building from Exeter Street to the arts center on St. Petersburg Drive. But the move was going to cost the city $70,000 and was deemed financially impractical.

That plan was "ridiculous to begin with," Beverland said.

The house needs to be saved, he said, because it is one of the first houses built in the city.

Built around 1918 to house workers, the building was donated to the Woman's Club by the city's founder, Ransom E. Olds. For years, it was the only place where women could socialize in the city.It also served as the city's library.

Through the years, the club's membership declined and the building fell into disrepair. The building has rotted wood, the exterior paint is peeling, and rats and roaches have nibbled on club records stored inside.

"The building has been neglected for many years and is in serious need of structural repairs for foundation deficiencies, as well as, electrical and plumbing upgrades," according to a letter from state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, included in the city's grant application package.

"This project will not only preserve a historical structure, but will enable the oldest continuously running organization in the city of Oldsmar to continue their activities," Latvala's letter states.

The building also will house artifacts from the city's history, as well as providing community spirit and "a link between the present and past" according to the city's grant application.

The Woman's Club has 16 paying members with about a dozen who show up for the group's meetings, Jorgenson said. The group typically has two meetings a month to discuss club business, and play cards and other games. Along with collecting money for local charities, the group also tries to have speakers during its monthly meetings.

The city acquired the house in 1998 after the Woman's Club deeded the building and the lot where it stood to the city in return for a promise that the building would be preserved and club members could continue to meet in it. But not much has been done to preserve the building since then.

"It's been put off this long," Jorgenson said. "But now that they have it scheduled out, we'll see what happens."

_ Times staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quiocosptimes.com.

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