The Bihar County Prefect has successfully stopped the sale of Stubenberg Castle. The estate is located in the city of Székelyhíd (Săcuieni, Zickelhíd), 42 kilometers north of Nagyvárad (Oradea). The municipality would like to sell, and the Saint Francis Foundation, led by the well-known humanitarian and Franciscan monk Csaba Böjte, would like to buy and renovate the historic building, but the prefect’s office declared that the conditions for sale “were discriminatory.” One of these was that the castle should function for the next two decades as a children’s home, an institution to care for orphans, abandoned children, and those whose parents are living in deep poverty.
As Csaba Béres, the mayor of Székelyhíd, told maszol.ro, the municipality “kicked the hornet’s nest,” when it decided it would be best to sell the former residence of the Stubenberg family, which is now state property and also in need of an extensive renovation. “The historical estate, situated in the center of the small city of Székelyhíd, is state property, but the municipality does not and has not ever had the funds to restore the imposing castle. The estate was rented more than a decade ago to the Saint Francis Foundation in Déva, which operates a children’s home in it.
According to the agreement signed in 2010, the Saint Francis Foundation will take over the property for 49 years, refurbish it, and establish a children’s home in it. Böjte’s foundation has already approached the municipality with a request to buy the castle two years ago, pointing out that their “sponsors do not want to finance the renovation of properties not owned by the foundation.” Recently, Böjte has again presented the municipality with the same request. According to Mayor Béres, Székelyhíd’s local council had two years to think about what they intended to do with the building, as it was known that the foundation would like to buy the property, extensively renovate it and use it as an orphanage.
For 54 years, a school had functioned in the Stubenberg estate, before moving to a newly constructed building in 2008. By that time, the castle was in poor condition. It stood empty for two years, and the municipality paid a large sum for guards to protect the building “so that thieves wouldn’t take everything,” the mayor related.
As he pointed out, state tenders are not enough to be able to achieve real progress in such an extensive restoration. “On the one hand, there are so many such historical buildings owned by the Romanian state that at least 50 or 100 times more funds should have been allocated than the amounts announced for the last budget period. On the other hand, in Bihor County, only one state tender was won, which was to support the renovation of the Nagyvárad (Oradea) Castle, the mayor recalled. He also added that the situation would not be any better in the near future either, as a total of EUR 23–24 million has been set aside for cultural heritage tenders for the next seven years in six counties. The restoration of a castle of such a size, with its gardens and fences, altogether would cost nearly EUR 4–5 million, said the mayor. He noted that even if the municipality would somehow manage to carry out the renovation, it could not provide for the efficient functioning of the estate; just the heating of the castle building of 1,700 square meters would be a considerable expense. Moreover, if the city were to renovate it, the valid agreement with Böjte’s foundation would have to be dissolved, and the foundation has already carried out major reparation work there.
“No one would move the castle away from the city. It was only sensible that instead of keeping the estate and watching it go to ruins, the city council decided to sell it to a buyer ready to renovate it. Not to mention that the prospective buyer, the Saint Francis Foundation, continuously helps solve an important social problem and that the sums the municipality would receive from selling the castle could be used as deductibles for urban development projects,” emphasized the mayor.
In the list of conditions for the sale, the municipality included that the prospective buyer must continue to operate an orphanage in the castle for the next 20 years and that the entity must have a history of at least 10 years in that field of activity and also have at least five operating points. “For this reason, I was accused of compiling a list of conditions personalized for Brother Csaba. But this is not true, as I could list up to 10 other institutions that are in a similar situation,” said the mayor. He mentioned that in case a tender is issued for asphalt work, the first aspect the investor takes into account is whether a candidate has done similar work or not. “If this can be the case with an asphalt job, when it comes to the issue of caring for underprivileged children, we obviously wanted to make sure that we get what we expect,” the mayor said.
After the local council decided to sell the castle at the end of May, the Bihor County Prefecture indicated that the sale conditions the council imposed were discriminatory, so these clauses should be removed from the tender.
The castle, in its current state, has been estimated to be worth around EUR 740,000, which is approximately RON 3.6 million. In comparison, the price of the recently sold and much larger Wesselényi Castle in Zsibó (Jibou) was EUR 800,000, about RON 4 million, the mayor of Székelyhíd mentioned in response to some opinions that the property was undervalued.
“Obviously, there are many who would not like us to sell this building. But in fact, no one would take this castle away from here, it would just be renovated and restored to its former glory. Furthermore, there could not be a more important and noble purpose for this building than to provide a home, proper care and upbringing for the socially disadvantaged children of the Érmellék region,” said Mayor Béres. A further condition of the sale was that the prospective buyer was obliged to organize four joint programs with the city every year, that visits could be organized to the castle, and that the gardens would be left open to visitors during the day.
The imposing castle, located in the center of Székelyhíd, was built toward the end of the 18th century in Baroque style. In 1830, the whole estate was bought by count Gusztáv Stubenberg, who had the castle rebuilt. That’s when the portico was built in Classical style, as well as the northeastern wing with a basement. The designs were created by a Viennese architect, Victor Siedec, who had used the topographical conditions, the slope of the hillside, in an excellent manner: The main façade of the castle is one story, but if one views it from the road, it looks like it a two-story façade.
Title image: The imposing Stubenberg Castle of Székelyhíd was built in the 18th century and then rebuilt in the 19th. The Saint Francis Foundation has carried out major repairs on the building, which it rents from the city to provide a home for underprivileged children.