A million-dollar question

The historic lighthouse keeper’s house, which the city of St. Joseph is considering buying from the Coast Guard, will need around $1 million in repairs and renovations over the next five to 10 years, city commissioners were told Monday. It has been proposed for use as a museum and cultural center.

ST. JOSEPH — If St. Joseph decides to purchase the historic lighthouse keeper’s house from the Coast Guard, it’s going to be a bit of a fixer-upper, with an estimated price tag of around $1 million over several years for repairs and renovations, commissioners learned Monday.

Earlier this year the city submitted a letter of intent expressing interest in buying the house at 103 N. Pier St., along the St. Joseph River, for use as a cultural and historical center. The duplex was built in 1908, around the time the lighthouses were erected, and was used as a dwelling for the lighthouse keeper, family members and assistants. It was later acquired by the Coast Guard and used as housing, but was vacated several years ago.

City Manager John Hodgson reported that St. Joseph does not yet have a selling price for the property, but the architect and contractors who conducted the restoration of the lighthouses have looked over the building and come up with a list of likely repairs that will be needed.

The most urgent repairs, which should be done immediately, have an estimated cost of around $115,000. This includes roof repairs, downspout extensions, demolition of deteriorated interior items, water in the basement, replacing the boiler and three radiators, and some electrical repairs.

Hodgson said he expected that these costs for immediate repairs would be part of the negotiations for the purchase price.

Work that will need to be done in one to two years, at a projected $222,000, includes replacing roof shingles, repairing porches and siding, interior plaster repairs and painting.

Brick tuckpointing, replacing aluminum siding with shingles, replacing windows with historically accurate wood windows, and refinishing wood floors should be completed within five to 10 years, at around $285,000, the contractors recommended.

Work that could be undertaken to complete the restoration comes in at around $431,000, with major items including replacing exterior doors, restoration of porches, restoration of flooring, and installing period-appropriate doors, finishes and fixtures throughout the building.

Hodgson explained that all costs include a 40 percent allowance above the estimated cost of individual work items as an allowance for contractor general conditions, contractor overhead and profit, and design and construction contingencies. The estimates are based on an overall inspection conducted over several hours, rather than from detailed designs of individual elements, he said.

Hodgson said he was not taken aback by the repair estimates.

“I don’t know enough to be surprised,” he said.

City officials aren’t discouraged, either. Mayor Mike Garey said they will conduct their due diligence before making a decision.

The city will be looking at partnerships to save the building, he added.

Garey said that the lighthouse tours had their biggest year so far, and the keeper’s house could be part of that.

“People are using it as a destination,” Garey said.

Gloria Mance, a former member of the parks commission, asked about parking for visitors at the adjacent Tiscornia Beach.

Hodgson said he thought that the parking at the house itself should be reserved for handicap access.

Mance also asked if Hodgson had heard from the neighbors, and he said he had not.

“If I was living down there, I’d say no,” Mance said.

The house is being offered under the Coast Guard Housing Authority Act, which allows it to be sold at fair market value, with the proceeds going toward new military housing.

The letter of intent doesn’t obligate the city to make a purchase, but starts the process and allows the city to look into the condition of the house and its use as an educational and cultural center.

Hodgson said he would inform commissioners when he receives a proposed price for the house. He had previously noted that other houses in the area have sold for around $500,000.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak