Big plans in progress at Succop Conservancy

Weddings keep mansion afloat

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It's been nearly two years since the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania acquired the Succop Conservancy from the Butler County Community College Education Foundation.

A year ago, the society has installed a new roof on the 19th century mansion -- one that is made to look like its original slate but is an amalgamation of recycled rubber tires.

The house has been treated to new windows, the interior has been repainted, a new bathroom installed, the back driveway and entry ways have been paved and lots of landscaping has been done or is in the works, said society executive director Jim Bonner.

"We wanted to make sure [the property] is in its glory," he said, as "wedding season" is about to begin.

He said most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through October are booked for weddings at the picturesque property.

A half-million dollars later, and Mr. Bonner said he's in touch with Penn Township and Butler County officials to discuss additional "enhancements" that acknowledge the burgeoning interest and participation in the 50-acre property, including plans to renovate the existing sprawling barn and convert it into classroom and retail space.

The two-story barn has a 2,400-square-foot footprint.

The Succop property has proven to be much more than a pretty site for nuptials.

It is a popular hiking spot, and numerous nature-related programs are held there, from dawn to dusk -- including campfire programs and "citizen science" workshops for fledgling scientists to maple syrup collection demonstrations.

A Mother's Day brunch featuring a birdhouse painting program is set for May 12.

And a three-day "Birdfest" is set for the same weekend, beginning May 10, during which bird migratory patterns will be observed and documented.

All of the activities and increasing numbers of visitors are prompting the society to plan for the future.

"Right now, there's just not a traditional or good classroom space for 30 or 40. The house is not set up for that. We could host a stand-up event for 100 at the house but, seated, we're maxed out at 20 to 25 in one room.

"Spreading people out for a sit-down dinner in multiple rooms we could fit 35 but that's it. We need more space," Mr. Bonner said.

The society is working with engineers and designers and are entering a "quiet phase" of fundraising for the project.

No construction schedule is set.

"My hope is we're looking at a two- to three-year plan," he said.

One project that's expected to begin in November is construction of an "events support" building, replacing the pool house bathroom with bigger rest room facilities and a base for catering work. That work is to be finished by the end of next April.

The property was transferred at no cost to the society from the BC3 Foundation because the foundation was concerned about ongoing and pending expenses associated with the property.

"They turned to us because we had been running summer camps for them for about four years," Mr. Bonner recalled.

The foundation had lost money annually on the estate since 2001 when Tom and JoAnn Succop donated the land on the condition that it be used for environmental education and as a preserved green space.

He said there was serious discussion about the ramifications and, in the end, the society decided to accept ownership of the property and all its obligations.

"It wasn't a quick or easy decision but we felt we could make it viable and sustainable," he said.

The wedding business at the 1830s mansion is helping as a revenue stream.

"We couldn't do it otherwise," he said.

The master plan for the pending enhancements is expected to be completed within six months.

neigh_north

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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