CAMDEN — A fire destroyed the Village of Camden’s historic Town Hall on Dec. 22, 1988. The cause of the fire is still unknown, but the Ohio Fire Marshal’s office said it began “by accident.” Following the fire, most people wanted the Town Hall demolished. The building’s savior came in the form of Jack White, who spent years raising money to stabilize the facility.
White’s group raised over $200,000 to hire architects and plan for renovation. It enabled them to put a new roof on the building. Camden Village Council would not fund the renovation, but White was able to get state funding. At the time, the renovation was going to be a complete historical renovation.
Current Councilman Kelly Doran said the project hit a snag when the hired architect died. He added, “The man had most of our planning money and when he died, that office closed and when that closed, there went our project. We had no one to pick it up. There we were in the wilderness again. This was probably 10 or 12 years ago.”
It was Greg Snyder who saved the village’s plans when the hired architect died. Snyder knew how much time and effort White had put into saving the Town Hall, so when the office closed, Snyder salvaged the planning documents.
This left the building stable, but boarded up. Someone had to pick up this project or the Camden Town Hall was going to remain uninhabitable.
According to Doran, it was Camden’s Village Council who eventually continued the renovation plans.
When the Town Hall was not renovated, council needed some place to hold their meetings, the police department, and Camden Mayor’s Court. That place for years was the Village Offices, located at 56 N. Main St. The space was rented, not owned by the village.
When the renovation plans had been brought in front of council in the past, lack of funding was the reasoning for not approving the plans.
“Nobody wanted to spend $250,000,” Doran added. “Well now, when you go back and you figure the time value of money and opportunity cost and everything else, we’ve spent almost $300,000 in rent. People didn’t want to spend the money in 1990, but they did anyway.”
That was part of the motivation which spurred the current Camden Village Council to support the Town Hall renovation project. They had already spent $300,000 in rent over the last 30 years and did not want to spend an additional $300,000 in rent — when they could simply renovate the building they already owned.
The Town Hall project was essentially dead for many years and it did not come back to life until very recently.
According to Doran, it took 10 years of council members debating the project for it to get finished. Two years ago, the council voted to seek financing for the renovation of the Town Hall.
Doran considers Bruce Perry and Kevin Fogt as the modern day saviors to the Town Hall project.
“They have delivered, when I don’t think anyone thought they could. Those two men have pulled this off,” Doran said.
When renovation of the building began, it was Perry and Fogt who did most of the work.
As Doran sees it, there is no way that this project would have been completed without Perry and Fogt. The bids started coming in for the project and they were estimated high. So instead of giving up, Perry and Fogt threw themselves into the project and did it themselves. Fogt was originally hired to do the brickwork, but stepped into other areas of the project which needed him.
They did have plumbers, window guys, and electricians, but everything else was completed by Perry and Fogt.
It was 2010 when Doran first got acquainted with Perry. He said that he was a retired custom home builder and asked Doran what was happening with the Town Hall. Doran told him they planned to renovate it, and Perry asked to be involved in some way.
Six to eight years later, Doran called Perry to ask him if he was still interested in the project, and he was. The village had $80,000 in their budget for a general contractor. Perry took none of the money and still served as their general contractor. He has been working on the job for over a year now.
Doran added, “And Kevin [Fogt]’s ability to pinch a penny and make it scream while he’s doing it — it’s amazing. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do.”
Many people did not approve of this renovation project, but as the repairs began, Doran said he could see “the mood change.” People who before had not been in support, were starting to see things his way and starting to see what the Town Hall could once again become.
“Some people don’t have a clear vision of what something could look like finished,” he said. “I never saw it unfinished in my own mind.”
Doran explained, people simply did not think the building was salvageable. It had spent so many years in disrepair, they just did not see how it could be worth the effort.
For Doran, saving the Town Hall was saving a piece of history.
“We’ve lost the building on the corner here that had the clock on it, we’ve lost our high school building, we lost a house up here that burnt — we’re just losing these buildings not only here, but all over the place. There’s just nothing like this building. I think the village and people in town will value it someday, if they don’t already. I hope that this sends a signal to people in our area that Camden is open for business,” he said.
The Village of Camden staff has already moved into the Town Hall, but the grand opening will be held on Thursday, May 11, at 7 p.m.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH