Not just another building in Aurora: Chamber raising funds to replace roof

Published 4:38 pm Monday, August 14, 2023

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At first glance, work required to replace the roof atop Aurora-Richland Township Chamber of Commerce may seem routine; however, upon closer inspection, the work illustrates efforts to save a town from falling into complete disrepair. 

Joy Dunn is the president of the Aurora-Richland Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) and a native of the Aurora area. She recently posted to the chamber’s Facebook page appealing to followers to consider donating money to replace the roof. 

“If we don’t address the roof soon we see collapse in the future,” she wrote. “The decay of old lumber in the frame is causing compromises all across the roof.” 

As of Aug. 11, $7,000 has been collected this year through donations and fundraisers which is 28% of the total amount the Chamber needs which is $25,000. Dunn hoped to collect all the funds needed by the end of the year so the project could be completed by January 2024. 

“We sincerely hope we can raise enough money to complete the job by January 2024, but we certainly will not meet that goal if we don’t get additional support soon,” she continued. 

When speaking with the Daily News, Dunn shared that water damage and age are the main causes of the roof crumbling. The Chamber is located in a 100-year-old building on Main Street where an original gutter system clings to the back of it. In multiple places on the ceiling of an adjoining building called The Venue, water damage is made evident by rust colored spots it creates. Ceiling tiles need replacing at The Venue, and a closet at the Chamber is completely closed off due to extensive water damage that has occurred over time. 

“Right now, it doesn’t look like it but the compromises on the outside are such that in time, this will look just like the rest,” Dunn said about the Chamber building resembling surrounding structures on Main Street. 

Neglected buildings surrounding the Chamber’s office are a stark reminder of what it could become if the roof is not repaired. Dunn is concerned that without repairs, it could become just “another building in Aurora.” 

 “Rather than destroy a building that’s standing, and doing okay – it seems to me that the most logical and the most effective thing would be to address the roof,” Dunn shared. 

Being that Dunn is from the Aurora area, she remembers a time when Main Street was bustling rather than bleak. In her office, there is a calendar hanging from a wall depicting downtown Aurora in 1966 as a busy town with people either scurrying or strolling down the sidewalks. 

“It was every week,” Dunn said. “You come to Aurora and you did some bulk shopping. You got a chance of course to visit all the friends, because everybody came. That wasn’t just for an event. That wasn’t event stuff. It was something that happened on a weekly basis. People flooded in here from town and all around Richland Township.”  

There were grocery stores, a mercantile, hardware stores, restaurants and more that people frequented on the weekends. 

“There was a lot going on and when people hear that if they’re not from here and they hear that it’s hard for them to imagine that it ever happened like that,” Dunn said. 

Dunn continued to share that it is “disappointing” to see Aurora as it is now and know what it was like decades ago. 

The town has dwindled to a population of about 455, as of the 2020 U.S. Census. Of that population, most residents are aging and above the age of 40 with median household incomes of $42,000. 

“The town itself, the issues that are here, in a lot of ways seem bigger than the town itself. It will take a ton of concerted effort by everybody,” Dunn said. 

One of those issues, Dunn speculated, is Aurora struggled to keep up with progress that was happening outside of town. 

“If you can’t keep up with progress, then you kind of are left behind. Progress takes kids out of the community, because they go to school elsewhere to college or trade school, and most of the time better opportunities for employment. If you’re a small place that doesn’t have industry generating economy in the area and employing people then the people can’t stay,” Dunn said. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact time when Aurora began to decline, Dunn said

According to Dunn, at least three strategic plans have been written since the 1970’s in hopes of bringing progress to the area. One was in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, another in 2008 and the third began last year. 

When the town was ready for a revitalization in 2008, a recession swept across the United States leaving very few sources of funding. Sadly, it was the first time there was an “initial effort” to help the town grow, Dunn shared. Even in the 1970’s there was an economic downturn that thwarted plans for advancement, she recalled. 

“Every single time has been some major setback that has affected the whole plan. It’s like, ‘okay so, is there a sign here we need to be picking up on,’” Dunn joked. 

A plan was written in 2008, because there was a realization of how far the town declined since the 1960’s. All of a sudden, casting a vision for the future of Aurora became a necessity where it had been left in hindsight for those 40 years in between. 

With every strategic plan that has been written and approved, and every economic downturn that happens afterward, it felt like the town was getting hit by tall waves knocking it down each time. But in April of last year, the town stood back up and drafted another plan. 

Last year, Aurora town council rolled out a strategic plan to “set a new trajectory” for the town’s future. This plan includes; revitalizing downtown, improving waterfront accessibility, addressing derelict properties and creating a cohesive design among buildings, constructing workforce housing, attracting businesses to a future industrial park, bringing high speed internet to residents, businesses and schools, improving local public education, expanding tourism and more.  

According to the latest strategic plan, the overall goal for the town is that “by 2035 Aurora and the greater Richland Township is recognized as a premier Beaufort County ‘destination place’ enjoying a vibrant economy anchored on support to mining, agriculture, fishing and the tourist industries; a family-focused safe community enjoying good governance and abundant quality training and education opportunities.” 

Those not part of town government who want to see Aurora achieve this goal are members of an Aurora Leadership Council which as Dunn described, is a “monumental task.” 

Their energy and optimism are admirable, but with a handful of members changing the course of a town’s future can become a daunting task especially when it comes to applying for state and federal funding. According to Dunn, keeping up the momentum to write grant applications is a challenge. 

“When you’re ever, ever involved with stuff that comes from the government, i.e. grants or other kinds of options that might be available by the government to assist – tons, and tons of hoops to jump through, steps to take, and if you’re not a dedicated person, if you just don’t have the focus, it’s easy to get off track,” Dunn said. 

Should the Chamber raise enough funds to replace their roof, then the office won’t become just another building in Aurora. It is hoped that it can be part of the town’s future watching, from Main Street, the town get back on track.