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Official: W.Va. National Guard interested in Roundhouse

September 01, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The West Virginia National Guard is interested in using the 19th century Baltimore and Ohio roundhouse and shops property in Martinsburg for unspecified maintenance operations, officials said Thursday.

"We can't go into detail about what they are," said Lt. Col. David Lester, the Guard's state public affairs officer.

"We are pursuing two economic projects that would fit with that property that would still allow the roundhouse to develop the property to their requirements," Lester said.

"The projects we are looking at will bring jobs and opportunities for people (primarily Guardsmen) in the local area and increase the economic footprint of the guard in this area."

Lester confirmed Thursday night that Major Gen. James A. Hoyer, the National Guard's adjutant general recently met with members of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority about using the former railroad maintenance complex.

Roundhouse Authority chairman Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III said in a town hall-style meeting Thursday evening that he intends to ask the public corporation board of directors that he leads to authorize him to continue discussions with Hoyer about a possible agreement.  

Lester could not confirm how many Guardsmen would staff the operations, but Martin indicated in the meeting, which was held by Berkeley County Council, that there could be 10 to 20 jobs created at the historic industrial site.

The National Guard would provide constant on-site security, clean and maintain the grounds and still provide access to roundhouse, which is the only remaining cast iron structure of its kind in the world, Martin said in the meeting, which was held at Tuscarora Ruritan Club west of Martinsburg.

Rent received from the National Guard would allow the Roundhouse Authority, a public corporation created in 1999 to restore and redevelop the property, to pay off about $400,000 in debt in less than five years, Martin said.

The Roundhouse Authority owes general contractor Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. $100,000 for the pedestrian bridge that was built to connect the property to the Caperton Train Station and $300,000 to BB&T bank.

The bank loan was originally a line of credit that the bank extended to the Roundhouse Authority, according to Martin.  

Martin said Hoyer expressed interest in the property at a closed-door meeting that the Roundhouse Authority held last week with a number of officials who were identified as having an interest in the property or who had access to resources to help redevelop the property.

While $8.2 million in grants have been awarded for the project's preservation and restoration since 1999, Martin said architects have estimated $15 million more is needed for completion.

Critical to getting the National Guard in the buildings are the installation of bathrooms in the complex, Martin said.

"(Hoyer) doesn't need anything from us except bathrooms," Martin said.

The Roundhouse Authority was awarded a $585,684 grant for the facilities, but Martin said they need $70,000 in matching money to draw down the awarded transportation funding. The historic industrial site is where the first national strike of rail workers began in 1877. The restored brick shop complex that stands today replaced shop buildings that Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson ordered to be burned in 1862.

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