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Roundhouse revitalization is a possibility

August 27, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - As prospects grow dim for saving a railroad roundhouse in Hagerstown, there was renewed interest Thursday in saving one in Martinsburg.

More than a month after the Martinsburg City Council voted against spending $340,000 for the roundhouse off East Martin Street, a group asked the Berkeley County Commission on Thursday for help in buying the roundhouse.

At the request of the group, the commissioners agreed to form a committee that will study ways of buying the building and restoring it.

The group requesting the formation of the committee included Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, local attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin and La Rue Frye, who headed a City Council committee that studied ways of buying the property.

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Douglas said renovation of the roundhouse has gained widespread interest in the community and she said it could spark a revitalization of Martinsburg. The group mentioned the recent attempt to save a roundhouse in Hagerstown, and suggested that the local roundhouse has an even more appealing history.

Members of the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum Inc. have been trying to save a historical roundhouse along South Burhans Boulevard in Hagerstown, but they don't have the money to take over the complex.

The roundhouse in Martinsburg was built in the late 1860s. An earlier roundhouse was built on the property, but was destroyed during the Civil War.

The committee headed by Frye looked for revenue sources to buy and renovate the building. The group identified millions of dollars in possible revenue from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the federal government, the West Virginia Council for Community and Economic Development and other agencies.

The committee's work culminated in a 20-page report to the Martinsburg City Council.

"We felt to stop at that point was just premature. We think this project deserves further consideration," Martin told the commissioners.

City Council members called a press conference last week to explain why they voted against buying the roundhouse. They said their responsibility is to all the city's residents, who could be strapped by a financially draining project.

The commissioners reacted favorably to Thursday's request, saying they do not want to see the roundhouse torn down.

Commissioner Robert Burkhart said he thinks there is money available for renovation. He said he hopes the roundhouse does not become a tax burden to any governmental agency.

"I guess we're opening the book on it, so to speak," said Commissioner Wayne Dunham.

"Whatever happens with a project like that, you ought never pull the rug out from under it," said Commissioner James Smith.

The committee could not buy the roundhouse, but a regional authority or a nonprofit group could be formed to buy it, Martin said.

There have been several proposals for use of the building, including a convention center, and all those ideas are still on the table, Martin said.

The estimated cost for a basic renovation of the roundhouse, which is currently owned by CSX, is about $6 million, said Martin.

Douglas said the committee would have to work in a "rather speedy manner" because she is not sure the deteriorating roundhouse and other structures on the 13-acre plot can survive a bad winter.

Douglas and Martin gave the commissioners a list of people who could be considered for appointment to the committee, including State Sen. Harry Dugan, R-Berkeley, and Morgan County developer Ray Johnston.

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