The nearly-160-year-old Hillary House, Aurora’s only National Historic Site, will receive an extra boost of support from the Town of Aurora through a grant-matching program.
Following a motion from Mayor Tom Mrakas last week, Council approved allocating a segment of the Town’s Heritage Reserve Fund for the continued preservation of Hillary House, a property owned by the Aurora Historical Society (AHS), towards matching any other funding received by the AHS up to $150,000.
The decision will not have an impact on the tax rate.
“I think all of us have talked about the fact we need to provide more financial support for the Aurora Historical Society and our National Historic Site, Hillary House,” said Mayor Mrakas last week. “I think this here, being presented in the way it is, is a way we can do it and provide leverage also for Hillary House and the AHS to not only look at the possibility of getting $150,000 but to leverage this and double that into $300,000.
“When you do house renovations, they are very costly and the longer you wait to do them the cost just keeps going up. I think the quicker that Hillary House can get to doing some of the projects that are much needed, I think the better off they will be, the better off we will be… and making sure that it lasts for another 150 years.”
The motion received widespread support from around the table, including Councillor Humfryes who cited concerns from herself and Councillor John Gallo that striking the right balance in contributing to their funds was a goal to be met.
“I feel badly when they come year after year [for a funding allocation] and work so hard,” agreed Councillor Wendy Gaertner. “They’re just trying to keep this house sound for the Town and for heritage.”
With that said, however, she said $150,000 is “nothing when you’re dealing with a house that age that requires so much work.”
“It is a never-ending challenge. What would happen if they weren’t able to raise this money that we would be matching funds for? If they weren’t able to raise it in time for their needs to do the first renovations (the summer kitchen), what would happen?”
But the Mayor stressed this will not hamper the AHS’ efforts in any way.
“It is to allow them to double the funds,” he said. “This provides some leverage to say [to a potential donor], ‘We have the funds sitting around waiting for us. If you want to provide a donation to us, we can double that because the Town is willing to step up and provide the matching funds…’ If we get to a point where they are unable to raise any funds and there is a much-needed project from a capital standpoint… it would have to go through the Heritage Committee as well. If we, as the decision-making authority, deem we’re going to decide to let those funds go, then that is what we would do.”
Helping the AHS double their funding is a goal Councillor Michael Thompson said he hopes is realized through this initiative.
“I know in the past, they have spoken about [the fact] that even though they are a National Historic Site, they have gone after grants and funding from the Federal government and other sources and they haven’t always been successful,” said Councillor Thompson. “Perhaps having us go first in setting up a matching grant program, this may help them achieve their goals and be successful in future applications and/or finding private donors who are willing to contribute to the success of Hillary House.”
As for the AHS, Councillor Sandra Humfryes said they are “extremely excited” to see what comes from this.
“This is a great opportunity for them, and this is a very substantial for them as a start,” she said.
Added Councillor Gallo: “If this is step forward in the process [of getting a sense of what is needed] then I am in full support of it. I think it is needed as long as it is done properly and transparently. I look forward to getting more information on their needs and how we can help them.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran