ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County leaders hoped to get a new roof on the 177-year-old Kenner House in Rogersville before winter sets in, but that plan went up in smoke thanks to some dilapidated chimneys of historic significance.
The Hawkins County Commission’s Buildings Committee agreed Tuesday to have county maintenance workers attempt a roof patch in areas where water is leaking into outer wall bricks. The concern is that the water will freeze and damage the historic building’s facade.
A roof replacement is off the table for the foreseeable future, however, because the Kenner House’s five chimneys are “crumbling” and in need of repair.
Although the Buildings Committee hasn’t received official estimates, County Mayor Melville Bailey said an engineer believes repairing the chimneys will be more expensive that replacing the roof.
The most economical way to deal with the problem would probably be to remove the chimneys and put the new roof over them.
The Kenner House is heated and cooled with a heat pump, and the chimneys aren’t functioning anyway because the fireplaces have long been sealed up.
But because the house is on the National Registry of Historic Places, and the chimneys are of historical significance, they must be preserved instead of removed.
And the chimneys must be repaired before the new roof is installed. If the roof is installed first, there is a good chance that the new roof tile would be damaged during work on the chimneys, especially in cold weather when the tiles would be more brittle.
“You can look at those chimneys and the brick are deteriorating,” Bailey told the Buildings Committee Tuesday. “They’re literally just crumbling away. It may be from age. It may be water getting in and expanding.”
Bailey added, “(engineer) Don Solt thought that the chimneys would be more expensive than replacing the roof. We’re going to have to have a roof on there because if it keeps going the way it’s going, once the roof goes on the building it’s not going to be here very long.”
The Kenner House, located beside the H.B. Stamps Public Library off Main Street, is owned by the county Library Board. The city of Rogersville and Hawkins County share the cost of its upkeep evenly.
Previously the home to the Hawkins County Industrial Board, Habitat for Humanity and other agencies, the Kenner House was vacated in 2009 due to disrepair.
Since then, county and city have slowly been planning what they fear may be an expensive renovation project.
City and county leaders haven’t yet determined what the building will be used for when it is repaired.
There is some good news. A structural engineer reported to the county recently that the roof line appears to be even, indicating a likelihood that rafters and decking are in fairly good shape. Some of the soffit on the east side above a second level porch is rotting, and that porch itself is in need of repair as well due to water damage.
“There does appear to be some water taken in on that upper porch in the actual wall,” Bailey said. “We can get our maintenance people up there to check that out, and possibly shoot that water off past the porch until maybe this spring.”
In the meantime, Foundation Solutions, which recently completed outer wall stabilization projects at the Kenner House, will evaluate the chimneys and report back to the committee.