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Restoration Brings Together Decades of History

Fri May 13, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

The Cotton Mill Village on West Main Street in Rock Hill, S.C., is a structure with a long history as a place of employment for many generations. Initially this building served as a cotton warehouse that supported the nearby mill in what was considered a growing area of the “New South” city of Rock Hill. The site was repurposed as the Rock Hill Body Company. They made everything from horse-drawn ice buggies for delivering ice around the city, to military contracts for manufacturing foot lockers, “duck” boards for getting around in swamps and the construction of truck bodies for school buses as well as Coca Cola delivery trucks.

Now, after months of careful restoration, construction and landscaping, the building is about to serve as home for fixed income residents in this recently transformed area. The Heritage Center, where the building’s old office was once located, will open soon as a small museum of the site’s varied and interesting history.

“We have a tremendous amount of old photographs, newspaper clippings and other items to go through prior to setting up our museum that will be on display once the site is completed,” said Kevin Connelly, owner of Connelly Builders, Columbia, S.C., which owns the property.

This area, known as the Hagins-Fewell neighborhood, had been in bad shape since ceasing operations as a mill village years ago. When the mill shut down and the small houses around it declined over the years, the original owners moved away.

“Crime and drug sales continued to take over this neighborhood as time went by,” explained Connelly. “So, we went to the city of Rock Hill and they were happy to have us redevelop the mill site.

“Our concern was that they’d drawn this major master plan to redevelop this area,”?Connelly continued. “I said ’we can redevelop the mill, but the problem is I’m going to become part of the problem instead of part of the solution because of all the crime. If I could work with your master planner we could start on the outside and drive a wedge into the neighborhood and we can use our best practices as far as putting security cameras in, setting up crime watch zones and doing a zero tolerance policy for drugs and crime with our tenants.’

The city agreed, so Connelly Builders went to work on developing a 72-unit apartment complex called Innsbrook Commons which are garden-style apartments and 42 townhouses called Cherry-Laurel. In the meantime, the city was setting up a TIFS District (Tax Increment Finance System) where all the taxes that Connelly Builders were paying would be handled. The city got a bond issue so that they could look forward to reworking the streets, the water, the sewer, the curbing and the landscaping.

Multiple layers of finance made this job a bit of a challenge, but Connelly was able to use state tax credits available to developers who rehab old textile mills. They had been working on this development for two years, going through the paperwork stage, funding stage and others.

“But once we obtained all our environmental clearance from the Department of Health and Environmental Control, cleaning up things such as old fuel tanks and other items needing to be cleaned up, from the time we started on construction until the time we received our certificate of occupancy, was only four months,” he said.

The window renovation on the Cotton Mill involved replicating the old windows. And a lot of the beams had to be replaced.

“The beams were actually the support mechanism for the floor,” said Connelly. “They were 12 inches by 15 inches by 26 feet long. We had a forester actually go and take trees out of the woods in order to construct the new beams.”

A lot of the metal pieces in the ceiling, used to trolley truck bodies from one end of the shop to the other many years ago, were kept in place. These various apparatuses were carefully painted and will continue to add character to the building.

Because the forklifts used on site had to run inside the building, they were required to use forklifts which ran on propane rather than diesel fuel. This kept the air quality on site safe.

Equipment used for construction included paving machines, bulldozers, excavators, forklifts and cranes. Connelly rents all of the equipment they use. Darren Richmond, project manager at Connelly Builders handled much of equipment rental.

“The equipment we used on site included a medium-sized forklift and a skid steer,” said Doug Mackie, superintendent who worked with Richmond on the job site for Connelly Builders.

“The forklift had plate compactors, breaker bars and chipping hammers. There were other subcontractors on site who had other equipment. All the heavy equipment that was used for big iron was subcontracted out to Blythe Construction, Charlotte, N.C. That included track hoes, graders, loaders and those types of pieces.

Watertight Systems Inc. of Lexington, S.C., was the subcontractor who did the brick and paint work on the job. Watertight does mainly masonry waterproofing and historical restoration. They rented a JLG 60-ft. straight boom manlift from Ahern Rental, Charlotte, N.C., which was used for an area that was not feasible to scaffold.

On the brick renovation they were dealing with walls that were 14 in. (35 cm) thick. One hundred percent of Watertight’s brick work on this project involved tuck-pointing, according to Kip McCoy, Watertight project manager on the Cotton Mill project. This consists of removing all the old mortar on a building and replacing it with all new mortar, to depths of about one half of an inch.

“It is very involved work,” explained McCoy. “Grinders with a router bit were used. This actually chews up the old mortar. With this being an historical site we had to use pre-engineered mortar to replace the old mortar. Pre-engineered mortar comes in a bag; you cannot mix the ingredients yourself.”

Such mortar contains just the right amount of lime, sand and mortar mix for accurate consistency. This product comes from Edison Coatings in Plainville, Conn., so the shipping actually cost Watertight more than the product itself. Most of this work was done with scaffolding which Watertight owns; they scaffolded the entire building, though they did use lifts for certain parts of the work. The amounts of workers on site varied from day to day, usually from eight to 10 in 10-hour shifts. The mortar was tooled to the original finish found on the Cotton Mill building.

A lead-encapsulation product was placed on the all exterior walls, and minor areas inside where lead was detected, as there were signs of lead in some of the original paint. This coating is waterproof too.

“This is work we typically do in a lot of old building restorations. Our main part on such work projects is the removing of old mortar out and putting new mortar back in. But we got up there and they liked what we did so well that they came up with all kinds of additional projects while we were there,” said McCoy.

When tenants finally move in, Kevin Connelly will be general manager of the property. Connelly hired a Columbia, S.C., management company, InterMark Management Company, to handle the property.

“We feel that progress breeds progress in the development of this multi-faceted site. We’re glad to have been involved and to have persisted in making this development a reality for an area in great need of a new direction,” said Connelly. CEG

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