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Elevator not ready for Rail Days

July 18, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The pedestrian bridge for the historic B&O roundhouse and shop complex in Martinsburg will not be open to people with disabilities who come for this weekend's Rail Days celebration, organizers said.

"We don't have an elevator in (the new tower) yet, but the stairs will be available," said Rosetta Chiofalo, executive director of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority. "They kept promising (the bridge would be fully accessible) till last week."

The bridge provides access from the Caperton Train Center to the roundhouse center.

Chiofalo said the authority received permission from city officials to install temporary railing along the new tower's flight of stairs to allow visitors to use the bridge this weekend. Handicapped parking will be provided on the grounds at no charge during the festival.

The event will feature model train displays, re-enactors, a home show, children's activities, and R&B and gospel acts.

In other roundhouse news, authority Chairman Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III confirmed Tuesday that he sent letters to the City of Martinsburg and Berkeley County Commission, asking them both for $50,000.

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"The purpose of this request is to cover the salary of the Roundhouse Authority, as well as other expenses," Martin wrote in the July 11 letter to Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin.

Martin also asked to make a 30-minute presentation concerning the request to the city council's Budget and Finance Committee.

Though about $8 million in state and federal dollars have been allocated for stabilizing and restoring the historic buildings at the end of East Martin and East Race streets, Martin said more is needed for bathrooms, heating and cooling systems, and fire code requirements.

Martin believes the authority has enough money available for storm-water and sewer projects, but is waiting to see what might be left over from the pedestrian bridge project. Any remaining funds could be applied to additional infrastructure needs to open the bridge and machine shop.

The authority has applied for a state-federal "pass-through" grant that will not be decided upon until October, and Martin said the money requested of the city and county was needed this calendar year.

With less federal and state funding available, Martin hopes "dedicated support" by the city and county will spur contributions from private donors.

"Now, we have to take a serious look ... at private contributors," Martin said. "When you're asking them, they want to see that the local governments believe in the project."

Martin said the county and the city have been supportive, including the county's purchase of the property several years ago and the city's recently completed in-kind work to establish water service for the property.

"As supportive as the county and city have been, we have no dedicated support from either of them," Martin said.

If the grant application is successful, Martin is optimistic the shop building on the roundhouse's west side would help the authority become less reliant on public funding. Chiofalo said the upstairs floor of the building is a large space that could accommodate 300 to 500 people.

"I think most of the hotels don't have a space that big," Chiofalo said.

The building and adjoining structure survived the first days of the Great Railway Strike of 1877, a "pivotal episode" in American labor history, according to historical accounts.

In 1990, vandals set fire to wood pallets in the east roundhouse, which was destroyed.

Both roundhouses were built on the site of the original facilities, which were burned by Confederate troops during the Civil War.

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