Yes or No?

Published 9:19 am Thursday, January 26, 2012

More viewpoints sought on feasibility of saving Memorial Hall


A third set of expert eyes is wanted before the county commissioners make a decision on the fate of Memorial Hall.

Last week the commissioners said they were considering preserving the 19th Century downtown Ironton building to turn it into the headquarters for the county’s emergency services. Right now the city owns the historic structure that was abandoned decades ago after serving as Ironton City Hall and its jail.

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A possible use for the building would be to house the consolidation of the county’s emergency operations, including the 911 dispatchers, the emergency medical service and the emergency management agency administrative officers and a newly established office for the county coroner.

The sandstone and brick structure built in 1892 as a tribute to the Grand Republic Army has been the center of controversy with supporters wanting to renovate the building and others saying it should be torn down.

In June E.L. Robinson, the city’s engineering consultants, recommended that Memorial Hall be demolished because the firm estimated the cost of restoration to be almost $8 million. To raze it would cost about $250,000, according to the Robinson report.

However, the commissioners said after calling in Shawn Walker and Associates, an Ashland, Ky.-based architectural firm, that there is about a two-year window where restoration would be possible. Cost for that could possibly only be about $3 million.

If the county did turn it into an emergency operations center, only the exterior shell would be used.

“I am not a specialist on buildings, not an architect or a contractor,” Commission President Les Boggs said. … Someone says it needs to be torn down. Others say it can be salvaged.”

Boggs wants to call in an expert immediately to offer a third opinion on the building.

“I am not going to make an emotional decision, but one based on practicality and what is good for the taxpayers,” Boggs said. “I would like to make the decision within the next two weeks.”

Commissioner Bill Pratt is also asking for a local demolition contractor to look at the building to see if the interior could be gutted.

“I would like to explore the options and get an opinion from people who have experience in the construction trade,” he said. “I like the idea of (preserving it). It is good to try to save those old buildings, but sometimes they have got in the condition where that is no longer possible. We are on the line on to preserve or it would be impossible to preserve. I think it may have gone too far, but let the experts decide.”