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What’s next for Memorial Hall?

A meeting is scheduled next week that could decide the fate of Memorial Hall after the county commissioners heard another opinion that the historic structure could be saved.

Right now the building is owned by the city of Ironton but in January the commissioners said they were considering preserving the 19th Century structure to turn it into the headquarters for the county’s emergency services.

After their Tuesday meeting, the county commissioners heard a report from Carl Howard of Mi-De-Con Inc., a commercial construction firm, that the building could be restored for a cost of almost $3.7 million.

That compares with an opinion given earlier from Shawn Walker and Associates, an Ashland, Ky.-based architectural firm. Walker estimated restoration could cost approximately $3 million.

“It can be done,” Howard told the commissioners at the meeting also attended by Ironton Economic Development Director Bill Dickens. “But you don’t want to wait. (Rain) will wash more and more grout out of the stone.”

Walker had also said in his report that the building had about a two-year window where restoration would be possible.

Howard laid out a 23-part proposal that included historical restoration at $509,838; roofing at $59,513; interior work at $517,308; and an electrical package at $479,000.

“I would like you to hire us as the construction manager,” Howard said. “It would be a win-win. We would work with the architect.”

A study done in 2007 by E. L. Robinson Engineering stated the cost for restoration would hit $7 million while tearing it down would cost about a half-million dollars. Demolition of the structure included asbestos and lead abatement.

According to the Robinson estimate, if the structure were restored, construction cost would be $5.5 million including asbestos and lead abatement. Architectural design, construction inspection, permits, legal fees and other administrative expenses totaled an additional $1.5 million.

After Walker gave his opinion on a restoration cost that came in much less than Robinson’s, Commission President Les Boggs sought a third viewpoint.

Now the commission will meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday with various economic and city leaders to discuss if the building should be saved.

“(Restoration) will be well-received by the Ironton community,” Dickens said. “We have torn down so much of our past, when it will cost about the same to build the same amount of square footage in a box.”

Dickens said during the meeting and afterwards that he believed $7 million estimate was high in order to dissuade earlier plans for the restoration of the building.

However County Engineer Doug Cade, who headed up the Robinson estimate project, defended the engineering firm’s work. At that time Cade was an employee of Robinson and not a county officeholder.

“One of the things we actually looked at were buildings of a similar type and historical nature of that building,” Cade said. “The cost to salvage the building in terms of keeping the walls from caving in and also reconstructing inside, it was comparable cost to the renovation of the Park Avenue Apartments.

“We felt that was a realistic number based on the information at the time. We were not in the business of giving someone what they wanted, but giving what we believed was the true cost based on our professional opinion.”

Howard’s plan is to gut the building, place a steel structure inside the walls, then attach that to the exterior. The plan would also remove the wooden staircase and rebuild it.

“(We will) retool it as the way it was,” Howard said.

The county is seeking historical grants and is considering applying for historical tax credits.