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Roundhouse forced to wait for grant money

February 03, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Months after receiving a government grant to buy and restore the B&O Roundhouse here, Berkeley County officials still have not been able get the money.

Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III, a Martinsburg attorney who is chairman of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority, told the County Commission Thursday that the holdup has delayed payments to CSX Corp. for the land and to contractors who have begun preliminary repairs.

Martin blamed the delay on the West Virginia Division of Highways, which administers the federal funds.

"They have been literally dilly-dallying around on releasing funds to us," he said. "There's no excuse for this kind of treatment."

Roger Hamilton, the administrative services manager with the Planning and Research Division of the West Virginia Division of Highways, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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Berkeley County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm-Hammond said she has tried to get an answer from state officials for months. She said state officials told her invoices had been sent to the Division of Highways' finance department on Dec. 13.

Sheetenhelm-Hammond said the reimbursement process should take no more than six weeks, but the money still has not been released.

She said she sent another letter this week.

Sheetenhelm-Hammond said the commissioners may take up the issue with Gov. Cecil H. Underwood this weekend when they attend a conference in Charleston, W.Va.

The Roundhouse Authority had hoped to use $100,000 from the $300,000 grant to complete the purchase of the property from CSX, which has pushed back several deadlines to complete the deal.

"CSX has been extremely accommodating. The holdup is in Charleston," Martin said.

Martin said authority members want title to the property before they launch expensive renovations.

Even if it had completed the purchase, Martin said the authority has not been able to pay architects and workers who have done preliminary repairs and brick work. Contractors expect to be paid later on government projects than private-sector jobs, he said. "But this is ridiculous," he added.

Martin said he is exploring a line of credit with local banks to tide over the organization until the grant situation can be resolved. The authority also has about $110,000 in the bank.

As they await the grant money, Roundhouse Authority members are working feverishly to meet their goal of opening the facility in 2004.

Martin said that will depend on fund-raising.

The railroad roundhouse was used for maintenance of steam locomotives in the mid-1860s. An earlier roundhouse built on the property was burned by Confederates in the Civil War.

The final look of the transformed roundhouse will begin to take shape on Monday, when the authority accepts a business plan for the facility.

"We will have a well-thought-out, well-studied business plan," he said.

The final details are months away, but Martin said likely uses include conventions and trade shows, a museum, sporting events, performing arts productions, graduations and other community events.

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