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Demolition at fort means progress

November 23, 2006|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE - Barracks that were full during World War II and later used as administrative offices for the U.S. Army are seeing their final days.

The old bowling alley and thrift store are gone, and the land has been regraded.

Sections of the former movie theater's foundation still stand, but soon they will be removed and hauled to a dump.

The actions at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base are signs that progress is taking place, after eight years of sitting largely vacant and undeveloped.

"It's nice to see activity here," PenMar Development Corp. Executive Director Richard Rook said Wednesday. "It's exciting. It really is."

PenMar is a state agency created in 1997 to redevelop the base, which the Army shut down in 1998.

A number of legal struggles prevented the Army from transferring the property to PenMar, but a federal judge allowed the conveyance last month. PenMar promptly sold the approximately 600-acre base to Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md., for $5 million.

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COPT plans to turn the base into a large residential and business center. The demolition is an early phase of that plan.

Contractors began demolishing the buildings last week. Thirty-three structures will be torn down, Rook said. None of the buildings slated for demolition are considered historic, he said.

Members of an asbestos removal team from Asbestos Specialists wore white suits Wednesday as they unloaded dozens of contamination barrels from a truck and stored them in a corridor that runs behind the base's stone finger buildings.

The finger buildings are not slated for demolition, but the structures and others that will remain will be gutted before being renovated, Rook said.

In an area behind the finger buildings, a pile of rubble was evidence of what used to be a structure. One barracks had been partly demolished, leaving its interior exposed. All of the barracks had been stripped of siding in preparation for being torn down.

Rook said was told that construction debris was being hauled out of the county.

Washington County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer, however, told the County Commissioners debris was going to the county's Forty West Landfill. He expressed concerns about the amount of the material being hauled in from the demolition, and about the effects of future demolitions elsewhere in the county. The county has said the landfill is filling faster than anticipated.

The contractor handling the debris at Fort Ritchie, Interior Specialists, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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