Officials start clean up of Ro-Na

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2008

When pundits talk about political muckraking, it probably isn’t the type members of the Ironton City Council were doing Saturday.

While AEP technicians were trying to get the electric back on in parts of Ironton and the Lawrence County Fair was coming to an end, six members of the Ironton City Council, the mayor and the economic development director got up early and headed to downtown to begin the long process of cleaning out the old Ro-Na movie theater.

The building had last been used as an auto parts store. Since that business closed in the mid-1990s, the roof had decayed and rain had damaged metal shelves, old paper records, auto parts, appliances and other items left in the building. Everything is covered in muck from ceiling tiles that collapsed and turned to mud.

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Surprisingly, the structure itself made up of concrete and steel is still solid. But murals of downtown Ironton and other things have gone to white in large sections as the rain washed away paint. The stage looks intact but has to be assessed. There are no theater seats left.

Councilman Frank Murphy had been through the Ro-Na a couple of times to show prospective buyers the old theater and had always maintained that it was structurally strong. Spending a day cleaning up didn’t change his mind.

“Actually, it is stronger than we thought,” he said, adding the structure and steel is sound. “The engineer stopped by and said he liked what he saw. He said once we get it cleaned out, he would do a full structural assessment but he said it looks good right now.”

He said that as a contractor he would have no problems working on a building like the Ro-Na.

“It’s ready once we get it cleaned out,” he said. No contract for repair of the building has been put out to bid and Murphy would not be eligible to bid because since he is on council.

Councilman Leo Johnson said Saturday’s cleanup was just the first day of a project that Ironton has to have.

“This is a cornerstone, a keystone of what we want to do. This is the key, if we can get this done, to have downtown revitalization,” he said. “I think it will be done and it has to be done.”

Mayor Rich Blankenship said they made good progress on the cleanup although it would be a long project.

“We got a lot accomplished,” he said. “Now that we have it cleared out somewhat, you can see some of the beams and it seems to be a very strong structure.”

Councilmen Mike Lutz and Chuck O’Leary and economic development director Bill Dickens also spent the day cleaning.

One of the more entertaining things was watching councilman and attorney Kevin Waldo enthusiastically run a Bobcat through the main seating area where rows of seats once held moviegoers.

“It was one of my most enjoyable experiences,” he said. “I’ve spent 28 years in an office trying to use my mind rather than my muscle. It felt good to get on heavy equipment and move stuff around. It was a lot of fun.”

Waldo said the debris and its cleanup was a lot worse than he expected.

“It is just shows you what 20-25 years of neglect will do,” he said. “This cleanup isn’t anything we want to do, it is something we have to do. The city has to see it through and we will get it done.