Renovating former U.S. Army Reserve property for senior center most cost effective idea

December 16, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • The utility room of the old Army Reserve building.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Preliminary estimates for the cost of renovating the former U.S. Army Reserve property in Hagerstown for use as a senior citizens center could cost about half as much as the county’s previous proposal to build a new facility at Hagerstown Community College.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray guessed that the main 19,000-square-foot building on the 4.6-acre property at 21 Willard St. could be rehabilitated at a cost of about $3 million to $3.5 million, although that could change after an official inspection by architects.

If that figure holds true, it would be significantly lower than the $7.5 million projected final cost of a senior center the county had planned to build at HCC. Murray said initial plans for the HCC proposal called for a building with about 18,000 square feet.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 in late November to purchase the property — formerly leased to the Army — from the city of Hagerstown, which agreed on a 3-2 vote to authorize the city to enter into a sale agreement for $625,000.

The county intends to use federal Community Development Block Grant money that will expire Dec. 31 to buy the property, but the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals still must approve a special exception to allow a senior center to operate on the premises.

That meeting will take place Wednesday.

Plans for center

Murray said Wednesday that the county has no specific plans for what services and facilities might be included in the main building once it’s renovated, but the options are pretty much endless.

Accompanied by Murray, The Herald-Mail last week toured the property, which has three buildings built by the U.S. Army for use as a Reserve center in the late 1950s, lots of parking and green space. It is in a residential neighborhood, adjacent to the city’s Hagerstown Greens at Hamilton Run golf course.

The main building is in great shape, Murray said, with basic brick and block construction that has “weathered time very well” and provides a workable skeleton for whatever the county wants to build.

“When you’re in the interior of the building, you can see that the walls are solid,” he said. “The condition of the building lends itself to rehabilitation quite well.”

The main building currently contains a gymnasium with an adjoining kitchen, two spacious rooms that Murray said easily could be turned into a cafeteria area, office space, a shooting range and other storage areas.

Two other buildings with tall garage bay doors not connected to the main building also currently stand on the property, used previously by the Reserve unit for vehicle and maintenance facilities.

“Of course, all the major HVAC systems would have to come out and be replaced with new, more green current type of high-efficiency systems,” Murray said. “So the structure itself, the complex, the amount of property here, the parking all lends itself well to rehabilitation for a repurposing of something like a senior center.”

Murray said the county might examine the idea of installing solar energy panels on the roof of the building, which is relatively flat, as a way to provide a greener source of power for the center. Public transportation also easily could be made available at the site with several entrances accessible for buses and vans and adequate parking areas.

Bill Beard, chairman of the Washington County Commission on Aging’s property committee, said the commission has been working closely with county officials since the idea of the senior center at the property came up. He said members of the committee have toured the property twice.

Beard said the property committee submitted a letter to the county commissioners Friday that included a list of desired facilities that they would like to see incorporated into a renovated center.

“We like the location, No. 1,” he said. “We think the building can be adapted to be a senior center quite easily. And that’s why we have prepared the suggested guidelines for doing that.”

“We think the space ... is perfectly adequate for a 21st-century senior center, and we’re very optimistic,” he said.

A wing for offices

Once complete, the building could end up containing two distinct wings — an administrative and office wing, and a recreation and activity wing.

Aside from a build-up of dirt and some minor debris near the glass-door entrances in the building, both sides appear to be in good physical shape with no obvious signs of mold growth or water damage on interior walls, Murray said. The city has done some work to the building’s roof recently to keep it tight.

A large set of double doors serves as a divider between the two sides.

A long, more narrow hallway in comparison to the recreation side runs the length of the office wing, with larger meeting or office rooms on either end and nearly a dozen smaller offices in between.

The large room on the west side of the building appeared to be some sort of meeting room. A podium sat in the corner with several chairs scattered about the room.

On the eastern side, a large office with metal cages and racks is across the hall from another room with dozens of hooks on one wall that looks like it would have accommodated uniforms or other equipment.

Both ends of the hallway have exits with access to street-level parking a short walk away. One side exits toward Willard Street and the other to a large adjacent parking lot.

Furniture, such as desks, couches and chairs, and other miscellaneous items were left behind in several of the offices.

The only offices that have not been accessed by county and city officials are those that belonged to the previous 1st sergeant and the commander of the center, Murray said. Those offices are locked and the key was not on the main key ring.

“They are just empty block offices like all the others, according to the former commander,” Murray said in an email Friday. “I would guess that the city has the key somewhere. They are not locked to intentionally keep people out.”

Men’s and women’s restrooms are centrally located in the office area. Murray said the restrooms, which have all of the necessary plumbing in place and contain a shower, would be renovated with new fixtures.

If unnecessary plumbing is located during the renovation, Murray said the original piping location easily could be turned into conduit for running wires or other necessary infrastructure to update the facility. Many of the rooms have exposed piping along the ceilings that could be used similarly if deemed unnecessary, he added.

A below-ground level boiler room with obsolete machinery also is located in the office wing, but Murray said all of that would be ripped out and replaced with new up-to-date systems. A building-wide electrical update will be required since the existing electrical boxes and outlets are not recessed into walls as mandated by current building codes, he said.

A recreation wing

With a wider main hallway and an open layout, the other side of the center would lend itself well to becoming the main area for recreation, Murray said.

Like the rest of the building, the gymnasium, currently being used for storage by the city, has a concrete floor and sturdy brick and block walls.

Several large blocks of glass windows around the upper area of the gym allow for some natural light. Interior lights hang from the ceiling.

A small kitchen facility with some equipment still present and a metal counter is in a room adjoining the gym.

Murray said the county probably would look at using that area for storage of recreation materials rather than keeping it a kitchen, which probably should be closer to an area that would be used for dining.

A short walk across the hall leads to two large open rooms that are divided by a nonload-bearing wall.

One side is open while the other has a large metal cage and some cabinets that appeared to have held military supplies, such as badges. A metal military helmet was inside one of the cabinets.

The ceilings are wide open with metal hangers running the length of both rooms, making it extremely easy to run wires and necessary ductwork that could simply be finished off by adding a drop ceiling, Murray said.

“It’s just perfect,” he said, looking up at the ceiling.

Food and rifle range

Murray said the two large rooms could be used as a community dining area with a central kitchen facility, among numerous other uses depending on what types of services are requested.

A doorway on the far end of the two rooms led to another smaller room with block walls on all sides. That room might easily be converted into a game room or something of that type of use, Murray said.

Returning to the main hallway, another medium-sized room appeared to look like a former equipment room, with some random items left behind inside, and around the corner is an armored vault for the storage of weapons and an accompanying rifle range.

The ventilated vault has a door at least 6 inches thick and a security system. A “No Smoking” sign on an interior metal cage-like door provided additional security.

The rifle range is a long windowless block structure about 20 feet wide and more than 150 feet long. Murray said that area could be turned into cubicle-style office space, converted into something like a bowling alley or just left as a shooting range for the center’s users.

Although the building is in great shape structurally, Murray emphasized that all of his estimates for different facility uses would need to be verified by an architect, who would offer suggestions and recommendations.

Dangers inside?

With many older buildings constructed in the 1980s or before, Murray said county officials expected that there would be some lead-based paint or asbestos in the proposed senior center structure.

On Nov. 27, Murray said a report prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers states that there are 17 instances of asbestos and 10 more places on the property where lead paint was used.

Murray pointed out the common 9-inch-by-9-inch floor tiles inside the main building that might be “impregnated or has a mastic under it that may have asbestos in it.”

“(The tiles) are nonregulated because they’re nonfriable, meaning they don’t produce a dust that’s in the air like a regulated asbestos,” he said. “During construction, you simply have a firm that will cordon that off and remove it all, and then you replace it with new materials.”

And issues related to lead paint and asbestos easily could be cleaned up during the renovation process, Murray said.

“That’ll be the main thing ... It’s quick and effective because you have the whole building stripped and then you build from base up and you have a very nice resulting facility,” he said. “Other than that, it’s a true rehab, reuse and repurposing of a very solid existing structure at a much lower cost. So we’re pleased with the opportunity to be able to try to put this to good use.”

‘The more use, the better’

Pending approval for the use by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, the county then would purchase the property, secure an architect’s opinion on the existing structures and then put together a request for proposals for demolition and construction bids.

With the finished layout of the center completely open at the moment, Murray said the goal for the project will be to include as many facilities as possible to get the most efficient reuse of the property for the county’s senior citizens.

This could include using the outside garage buildings for activities such as botany, establishing a working greenhouse or space for a local woodworkers guild that many senior citizens participate in as a hobby, among other uses, he said.

Murray said another idea would be to possibly allow the center to be open for public use some evenings, providing fitness or other activities as space allows.

“The more use, the better,” he said.

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