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County giving up plans for building

Shawn Walker got a letter in his Monday morning mail that he and others interested in the restoration of Memorial Hall had been waiting for.

The 19th Century structure, built to honor the Union veterans from the Civil War, has been put on the state registry.

However, that good news apparently is a case of too little too late as far as the county is concerned as the project has only had the outspoken support of one Lawrence County Commissioner.

“I think the other two spoke loud and clear,” Boggs said referring to recent interviews by his commission colleagues. “I think it was a good project and very cost effective with the tax credits to get done what we had to get done. However a majority wins.”

The goal of restoring the abandoned structure, that once housed Ironton City Hall, its jail and public library, was to turn it into an emergency management center headquartering 911 dispatch, EMA, EMS and the county coroner’s office. Cost to do that was estimated at just over $3 million.

The plan was to place a free-standing structure inside the building. It would attach the halls to its masonry walls since most of the interior of the hall has fallen in and would have to be gutted.

For the past few months outside consultants have presented options to the county commission that would use state, federal and new market tax credits to get a reduction in the cost of renovation. State credits could bring in 25 cent on the dollar, federal, 20 cents on the dollar and new market, 39 cents on the dollar. Credits could be used in combination or alone. However, federal credits require the formation of a for-profit syndication.

Boggs had said a combination of tax credits with some long-term debt was feasible if the annual payback was approximately $180,000 or $15,000 a month.

This summer Memorial Hall went on the national registry automatically allowing it the federal credits.

“We got state approval this morning,” Walker said. “You still have to go through the state funding cycle. We got state registry.”

To apply for the state funding, a plan must be submitted to the state about the use of the building.

“You would submit a plan on what they would do with the building to qualify for state money,” Walker said. “You have to have a proposal. Basically we had done that. We did some floor plans. Basically we have everything done. If (the state) approved, they would get state funding.”

However during the recent county commission campaign, incumbent commissioner Bill Pratt, who won another term on Nov. 6, opposed the renovation.

“It is not a viable option,” Pratt said last week.

Instead Pratt wants to turn the current Ironton City Schools headquarters into a law enforcement and emergency center.

“That is definitely what I would like to pursue,” he said. “I can’t make that promise. If there is extra money, that is definitely the direction I would like to see. I would like to take a tour of the building and get those department heads and the sheriff and look at it and see what is possible there.”

Freddie Hayes, who also won another term on commission last week said he supported the concept of renovation but did not believe the county could afford the project.

“I don’t believe we will be able to do it,” Hayes said Monday. “It is too much expense for the taxpayers. We will have to rule it out.”

Now Ironton City Council is back looking at what to do with the building that the city still owns — whether it is tearing it down, reviving the county project or turning the site into a memorial park.

“About two weeks ago, members of council said ‘Let’s get this on the front burner,’” Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship said. “It will be an ongoing discussion. Within the next three years, we will really explore what is feasible financial.”