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Seven shovels turned over dirt on just under an acre of grassy land right outside of the gate on June 11, marking the beginning of a project that, when complete, will serve as the new home for the Town of Montreat government.

Mayor Tim Helms was joined by Montreat’s board of commissioners and town administrator Alex Carmichael in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new town hall, as around 100 residents looked on.

The nearly 4,000-square-foot facility, designed by Black Mountain architect Maury Hurt, will cost $1.6 million to build. Hurt, contractor Brian Sineath of Sineath Construction and landscape architect Joel Osgood were among those introduced during the event. 

Helms thanked neighboring Black Mountain, which was represented at the event by town manager Josh Harrold, Mayor Don Collins and the board of aldermen, for their work with Montreat on passing a joint resolution through the General Assembly in 2018. The measure allowed Black Mountain to de-annex the property and Montreat bring it into town limits.

The Montreat mayor then thanked Sens. Terry Van Duyn and Chuck Edwards, along with Reps. Susan Fisher, Brian Turner and John Ager, for their support of the bill, calling the group "instrumental in shepherding" the bill through the legislative body.

Mountain Retreat Association president Richard DuBose attended the ceremony and Helms thanked the organization, which has operated the Montreat Conference Center since 1905, for selling the lot at the corner of Montreat Road and Rainbow Terrace to the town in December of 2017. 

Helms also thanked Montreat College, which was represented by Joe Kirkland on behalf of president Dr. Paul Maurer. 

Also in attendance was Al Richardson, who served as the interim town administrator following the departure of Ron Nalley in 2016, was thanked for his efforts as well. Helms expressed appreciation for the work of Nalley, who was not present.

Montreat resident Edna Jacobs Banes performed a blessing of the land. 

"Indeed, this land is a blessing to us..." she said. "Yet even as we celebrate today, we must also recognize that the journey to this land — to this moment — has been painful for some. So we pray a special blessing for them, that this land and town hall may be not only a place of welcome, service and inclusion, but also a place of healing today and for generations to come."

Construction of the town hall represents the latest chapter in the controversial story of the town hall. 

In 2013, the town council at the time purchased an acre of land on Florida Terrace, which they planned to use as the site for a town hall and police station. 

Many in the community opposed the location and the design that presented for the building. In December of 2014, five Montreat residents successfully sued the town to prevent it from going through with the plan. 

The 2015 election ushered in a new mayor and board members who quickly changed course regarding the town hall. By March of 2016, commissioners, many whom currently sit on the board, announced it would stop efforts to build on the Florida Terrace site and search for a new location. 

In January of this year, the board voted unanimously to select Hurt, whose father William Hurt served as the president of Montreat College from 1991-2002, to design the structure. 

The building design calls for a multi-purpose room, town administration offices, space for police officers and an office for the town's police chief. 

Sineath, who owns started Weaverville-based Sineath Construction with his father in 2008, has worked on numerous construction projects in Montreat. 

Helms thanked residents Tom Frist and Bill Scheu for spearheading fundraising efforts for features in the building and a water garden, which organizers say will enhance the character of the town hall. 

The project is scheduled to be completed in spring or summer of 2020. 

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