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Open house highlights $2M Liberty Tower renovations

| Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 12:06 a.m.
Bill Filby, left, and Betty Mae Rice, right, sit in front of Liberty Tower in California, with Annabelle Filby, the only original tenant of the Tower, following ceremonies Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, for the dedication of the newly renovated facility.
Chris Buckley | The Valley Independent
Bill Filby, left, and Betty Mae Rice, right, sit in front of Liberty Tower in California, with Annabelle Filby, the only original tenant of the Tower, following ceremonies Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, for the dedication of the newly renovated facility.

Annabelle Filby moved into the Liberty Tower when the California senior housing unit opened in January of 1981.

For nearly 33 years, she has called apartment 209 her own.

“It was my first home,” said the Clover Hill native, who will turn 85 in December.

Her nephew, Bill Filby of Charleroi, remembers the day Aunt Annabelle moved there.

“She was glad to be independent, on her own,” recalled Bill Filby.

Dedication ceremonies and an open house were held Wednesday at Liberty Tower to celebrate the completion of the facility's $2 million renovation.

Annabelle Filby received certificates from the Washington County commissioners and state Sens. Richard Kasunic and Timothy Solobay recognizing her as the last remaining original tenant from the tower.

Annabelle Filby has battled a handicap all of her life which has affected her speech and physical ability to get around, said her sister, Betty Mae Rice.

Rice lives just down the hall from her sister in Apartment 214.

Rice looks after her sister.

“She has a lot of people who look out for her,” Bill Filby said. “She has a lot of friends here. She always has.”

But Annabelle Filby has enjoyed the independence that Liberty Tower has provided her, her nephew said.

“It helps her tremendously,” he said. “She has been able to do the things that she wants to do. She is on her own, cooking for herself and going shopping when she wants.

“She takes the bus. She's been pretty independent. The people she's made friends with here help her too.

“It's one of the reasons she's lasted as long as she has and they've kept her going.”

During Wednesday's ceremonies, William R. McGowen, executive director of the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, said the county has made affordable housing for the elderly a priority since the 1970s.

After the 30-year mortgage on the facility was satisfied, the county began considering renovations.

Funded by federal Housing and Urban Development grant, the county completed the following renovations:

• New roof, HVAC equipment and lightning protection system.

• New kitchen cabinets and countertops, kitchen and bathroom vinyl floors and HVAC units for all 104 apartments.

• New gas hot water tank and trash compactor.

• New sanitary sewer lines and water shut off valves throughout the building.

• New floor coverings, window treatments, painting, furniture and tile ceilings on the first floor and all elevator lobbies.

• Handicap accessibility improvements in all public restrooms.

• Energy efficiency improvements, such as weather stripping all windows and doors.

McGowen said all of the kitchen cabinets, ranges and refrigerators removed from the apartments were donated to Washington County Habitat for Humanity.

“This project would not have been possible without the full cooperation of the residents and their families,” McGowen said. “We renovated 104 units with it being fully occupied. No tenants were displaced.”

Commission Chairman Larry Maggi said the project was a prime example of government working together.

“The redevelopment authority does a lot around the county,” Maggi said. “One of the most important things they do is right here – providing affordable senior housing.”

Commissioner Harlen Shober said the goal is to “make it a little bit better for the people who live here.”

Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan called the open house “a celebration” of the county's ability to offer quality facilities for seniors.

“This facility will allow you to live independently, but with neighbors close enough if you need assistance,” Irey Vaughn said. “I'm glad we were able to find the funding to renovate your homes. This is where you make memories. I hope you're comfortable in your homes.”

Building Superintendent Ralph Stasko also attended the opening in 1981. A 35-year employee of the redevelopment authority, he said the authority has made many improvements over the years.

“There isn't anything the redevelopment authority wouldn't do for the tenants,” Stasko said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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