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Commission buys time for roundhouse

October 01, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission decided Thursday to buy time to try to save the historical B&O roundhouse in Martinsburg, with what commissioners called a no-risk deal for the county.

The commission voted unanimously to put up $29,000 in "good-faith money" to enter into a purchase agreement with CSX that, according to commissioners, will give the county roughly a year to come up with federal transportation grants and other free funding sources to cover the $190,000 cost.

Commission President James Smith said he worked out a deal with a CSX representative that would allow the county to get all of its "up-front money" back if funding can't be found by July 1999.

The $50,000 up-front money paid to CSX will include $25,000 already promised by the state Legislature, Smith said.

The county also will pay local developer Moncure Chatfield-Taylor a refundable $4,000 for the right to exercise his purchase option on the property, he said.

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The only money they couldn't get back would be spending for roof repairs, which must be made before winter to keep the buildings from ruin, Smith said.

"We're trying to make sure the opportunity is there to save the roundhouse. It's just the right thing to do, that's why we're struggling with it," he said.

Smith said he'd like to see the City of Martinsburg partner with the county in applying for funding.

An effort to get the City of Martinsburg to buy the property and make temporary repairs failed this summer, when the Martinsburg City Council voted 5-2 against purchasing an option to buy the CSX-owned property from Chatfield-Taylor.

The Berkeley County Commission officially got involved on Aug. 27, when it set up a Roundhouse Center Study Committee, composed of members of the city's former study committee and others interested in the project.

The plan is for the county to shift ownership of the complex to an authority that will manage it and make sure the complex can at least cover its costs, commissioners said.

Without the assurance it can survive without tax dollars, commissioners said they couldn't support the project.

"My feeling is the roundhouse is not a County Commission project, it's a community project," said County Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart, who likened the commissioners' action to a "leap of faith with a bungee cord attached."

Study committee members Clarence E. Martin III, Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, and Martinsburg City Councilman Richard L. Yauger assured commissioners that there's a lot of support for saving the roundhouse.

Finding the estimated $72,000 for roof repairs has to be a priority to fend off irreparable structural damage, Martin said.

He said he thinks the community will support a fund-raising campaign for roof repairs that representatives of a weekly newspaper in Martinsburg announced at the meeting.

Based on the city committee's study findings, the complex should not only pay for itself but should make a profit once it is restored into a usable facility, said Martin, the committee's chairman.

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