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Ground broken for long-awaited Heritage Center

August 21, 2003|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - After nearly five years of planning and raising funds, about 100 people gathered last week in a gravel lot across from the Franklin County Courthouse for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new $3.5 million Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce Building and Heritage Center.

"There are some former chairs of the chamber ... who thought the ribbon-cutting for this project would occur during their tenure," said Doug Harbach, the current chairman of the chamber.

Harbach said he figured by now the chamber would be moving into its new offices, rather than just breaking ground.

With the funding in hand, however, Chamber Executive Director Dave Sciamanna said the building will be completed about the middle of next year. The 9,000-square-foot building will include renovations of a marble bank building on Center Square that will become the Heritage Center and a three-story east side extension that will serve as the Chamber's new offices.


U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., will be among the new tenants on the upper floors of the addition along Lincoln Way East, according to William Snell, president of the Chambersburg Area Development Corp.

The marble bank, built in 1915, will be home to the Heritage Center, Sciamanna said. With people dressed in period costume from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries among the crowd Thursday, he said the center will include exhibits of the county's history from those three centuries, along with a six-to-eight minute film about the area's history.

Bids on the film, which Sciamanna said is budgeted at approximately $100,000, are to be opened today. Once it is produced, it will be shown in the Heritage Center on a high-definition television screen.

"From an economic development standpoint, heritage tourism is an outstanding investment for public and private dollars," Sciamanna said at the ceremony. Approximately $1.5 million in public funding is going into the project, primarily for renovations to the bank and the cost of the film and exhibits, Sciamanna said later.

Approximately $400,000 of that is set aside for the film and exhibits, which will chronicle the history of the county, he said.

One obvious feature of the bank building that will remain is the vault, with its huge circular steel door. Downtown Chambersburg Inc. President Paul Cullinane said the vault will be used as a "historic archive of files on significant members of the community.

Those will range from Benjamin Chambers, who founded the community around 1730, to the late Ray Depuy, who devoted much of his efforts to historic preservation, and the late community activist Mike Waters, Cullinane said.

Visitors will be able to get five driving guides at the center to direct them to 44 locations of historic interest in the region, Sciamanna said. They will also be able to do trip planning by computer, looking up hotels, restaurants and attractions, Cullinane said.

"This project is really the third major project in the downtown master plan," Cullinane said of the Heritage Center. One, The Capitol Theatre Centre, is completed.

The $2.5 million Village on the Falling Spring project, which includes streamside improvements, enlargement of a small park and pedestrian and alleyway improvements, has yet to begin construction, but borough officials last month said that could begin next year.

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