Armory backers hope for partial opening this year

As the second phase of Marietta’s Armory Square project gets under way, members of Armory Square Inc. are raising funds for a third phase that could include opening a portion of the armory building to the public later this year.

Marietta Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, has been working toward that end with Armory Square Inc., the local nonprofit group formed to help support restoration efforts for the 99-year-old National Guard Armory building.

He said the plan is to open the southern entrance and ground floor hallway of the building that would include new restroom facilities, offices for WASCO Inc. and Lakeshore Bus Lines, as well as hallway displays with information promoting Ohio tourism.

“The third phase would also secure our quarter-million-dollar Ohio Scenic Byways grant,” Noland said, noting an occupancy permit for the facility is a requirement to qualify for the grant.

“The state building code has a provision for partial occupancy if the code is met by the finished section of the building,” he said.

If the ground floor hallway, restrooms and offices can be completed, that section could be sealed and opened to the public while work continues on the remaining two floors of the armory building, Noland added.

The deadline for use of the $252,000 National Scenic Byways grant, approved for the city through the Ohio Department of Transportation more than four years ago, has been extended several times while city officials worked to obtain additional funding for the armory project.

The current grant deadline is June 30 of this year, but Noland believes ODOT would allow another extension because there has been a lot of work completed on the project in the past year, including installation of new windows and doors on the entire facility.

In addition the second phase, currently under way, will include new roofing and structural repairs.

“We can prove a tremendous amount of work has been accomplished,” Noland said. “Hopefully ODOT will see that and give us another extension on the grant.”

Jane Tumas-Serna, vice president of Armory Square Inc., announced during a council lands, buildings and parks committee meeting last week that the group is already seeking additional grant funding.

“We’ve gone to the Sisters of St. Joseph with a letter of intent to apply for a $20,000 grant, and we went to the McDonough Foundation (in Parkersburg) where there was a suggestion for maybe $50,000 toward ADA-compliant restrooms,” she said.

Noland said both granting agencies had visited the site and encouraged Armory Square Inc. to apply for the grant funding.

“And the Sisters of St. Joseph application has to be completed by Wednesday,” he said.

But the city administration isn’t convinced a partial occupancy of the armory building can take place in time to save the National Scenic Byways funding.

During last week’s committee meeting, Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp noted the engineering department had been able to get a year’s extension on the grant last May.

“But we have not been able to meet the grantor’s requirements for that grant, so we’ve decided to rescind it,” he said. “And we need to rescind it soon, before it’s too late, in order to maintain credibility with the grantor. We’ve been sitting on this for four years now.”

But councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, pointed out that a lot of work had been done on the armory since last May.

“In the past year there’s been more than $800,000 worth of improvements, including windows, doors, and now the roof and structural repairs,” he said.

City engineer Joe Tucker commended Armory Square Inc. and others who have been raising funds to continue the building renovation project.

“But as an engineer it seems this entire project has been done backwards,” he told the committee last week. “The grounds work was done first, then windows and doors, and now the roof. The roof work makes the most sense, to preserve the building’s interior.”

Tucker said a plan should now be put in place to finish the project.

“We need to have a total understanding of what the rest of the space inside will be used for-that’s very critical from a design standpoint,” he said. “And I’m the last person who would want to lose a $252,000 Scenic Byways grant, but they want a building that’s ready to occupy, and I would like to tell ODOT long before June 30 if we’re not going to have that done.”

Tucker recommended taking some time to work the details out before moving forward with the third phase.

“Do the design and figure the whole building out from the ground all the way to the up, then you can do the final work in phases and not be tripping over yourself,” he said.