LORETTO – A local landmark originally built by one of Pittsburgh’s captains of industry will be returned to the spot where it greeted visitors to Loretto Borough for a century.
Loretto Borough Council has approved contracts totaling $101,422 for reconstruction of the Village Cross, originally built in 1917 at the entrance to Charles M. Schwab estate.
The 18-foot obelisk was toppled June 22, 2018, when a truck driven by John W. Stewart, of Altoona, slammed into the monument, which sat in the intersection of Manor Drive, St. Mary Street and Brick Road.
Stewart was charged with driving under the influence.
Borough Council President Ward Prostejovsky said repairs have been delayed until Stewart’s case is finalized because his insurance is expected to pay for repairs.
“One way or another it’s going back in,” Prostejovsky said at Monday’s borough council meeting. “We want to make sure the responsible party is held responsible.”
Council and Mayor David J. Eckenrode remain committed to restoring the monument, Prostejovsky said.
A $95,700 bid by Allegheny Cut Stone Co., of Altoona, was approved for the monument construction, and Jacobs Ornamental Iron, of Northern Cambria, was awarded the $5,000 bid for repairs to the historic weather vane that topped the monument.
There were no bids received for reconstruction of a protective wall, so the work will be advertised again. Prostejovsky estimates the total cost could reach $115,000.
Stewart’s case has been continued several times as plea negotiations continue. Prostejovsky said the ultimate disposition could be influenced by the borough’s recommendations, which will be based, in part, on the insurance payment and other restitution.
“This needs to be paid in full for us to be lenient,” Prostejovsky said.
Even if the insurance and restitution is not sufficient for reconstruction, the borough is committed to completing the work, he said.
Although leaders hoped to complete the reconstruction this year, the hope for that is dimming. Prostejovsky estimates the tower’s reconstruction will take at least six weeks after the limestone components are brought from an Indiana quarry and cut to size.
The work can’t begin until council secures financing to cover the project until insurance money is finalized.
“It will be done, come hell or high water,” Prostejovsky said. “It would be nice to settle this matter this year, but that timeline is looking less likely.”
Last year’s crash marked the third time the Village Cross was toppled by a vehicle. A larger overhaul was required following a February 1986 crash.
Loretto historian Frank Seymour led the earlier reconstruction project, which primarily was financed by donations and fundraising.
“That took a year of my life in 1987,” Seymour said Monday at his St. Mary Street home.
Seymour said he provided council with drawings and documents of the 1987 work, which was also done by Allegheny Cut Stone Co.
“In 1987 we had to start from scratch,” Seymour said.
The current work will not be as extensive because of a protective wall of Jersey barriers installed in the 1987 project, Seymour said, explaining Stewart’s pickup was lifted by the barrier, raising it above and protecting the monument base and water basins for four fountains.
In addition, the previous reconstruction restored water flow to fountains originally used by travelers and their horses. Electricity was reinstalled in 1987 for a light atop the monument tower.
Those systems had been removed prior to the 1986 crash.