In 2014, more than 4,400 Mt. Lebanon properties were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But the fact seems to be one of those best-kept kinds of secrets, as members of the municipal Historic Preservation Board discovered a few years ago while talking to various residents during a First Friday public event.
“They were kind of shocked by the number of citizens who didn’t know that we had a National Register spot,” said Anne Swager, who now chairs the board. “They didn’t really understand how their houses fit into or their neighborhoods fit into this designation and, in fact, what the designation meant.”
Swager and her colleagues, including municipal liaison Laura Pace Lilley, are working toward bringing more visibility to the status.
“That’s a very highly regarded mark of significance,” she said during Tuesday’s Mt. Lebanon Commission discussion session. “It’s something that ultimately boosts the marketability and value of the entire community, and it’s not given out easily.”
In the 2020 municipal budget, commissioners allocated $10,000 to the Historic Preservation Board for design services related to the eventual placement of signs illustrating the designation throughout the relevant area. “Historic District” placards are to be placed atop existing signs at street intersections, and entry signs along the municipal line are proposed to receive placards stating “A Historic Community.”
The board is requesting 2022 for the next phase of the project, the fabrication of the “Historic District” signs for the intersections. A standard size for the placards, the smallest possible, has been selected to accommodate street signs lengths of 24, 30 and 36 inches.
“We are being conscious of the cost of doing these signs,” Swager said. “The most economical way to do it is to have it designed as one size for all three different-sized signs we have in Mt. Lebanon.”
She said Kolano Design, the East Liberty company contracted for the first phase of the project, provided a “rough estimate” of $25,000 for fabricating the sign toppers.
“Bear in mind that we haven’t gone through all of the streets and figured out where there might be redundancy,” she said. “In other words, where can we cut back on the numbers? So we think that we can live within the $20,000 budget to at least get the street toppers up in 2022.”
Commissioners requested more specific numbers with regard to quantity and cost as they consider the request in formulating next year’s budget.
No estimates have been calculated yet for the entry sign placards.
“The historic preservation board is being very sensitive to costs, and so they did not estimate everything to manufacture in one year,” Mindy Ranney, commission president, said. “They thought, over the next several years, and maybe there will even be outside funds, if needed.”
She also complimented the board for “a great job managing the design of the signs and came up with something that is beautiful but simplistic, and represents our community.”
In addition to the sign project, board members have been working on a policy addressing Mt. Lebanon’s brick streets.
“We’ve gotten a basic framework as to where we want to head,” Swager said during the discussion session. “We are acknowledging that saving brick streets is a very expensive endeavor. We’re also acknowledging that the residents want you to save the brick streets. So we are working on a policy and a process on how and what to preserve, and how best to do it.”
Commissioner Andrew Flynn cited the cost factor.
“How do we ensure that we have the additional ‘X’ amount of dollars on an annual basis to ensure that we maintain those streets to the highest level of quality that we would expect for our asphalt streets, recognizing that there is additional work?” he said. “The exercise is a financial one, when it really boils down to it.”
Leeann Foster, another commissioner, made further observations.
“I think we also need to have a ‘how.” How do we upkeep the brick streets? Or if the recommendation is that we have more brick streets, how do we install them and how do we make sure that we can keep them the way that our residents would want them to look? How do we manage brick streets?” she said. “We need to have some kind of recommendation about that piece.”
Swager assured that her board would continue to examine the issue and provide commissioners with solid answers.
“We hope to be both the champions for brick streets, because we think they are of great value to the community, but also having your back, to say, ‘Hey, here’s the research we’ve done. Here is how it’s doable or not doable,’” she explained. “These are hard decisions, but they, in the end, keep our community the historic community that we all value.”