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Federal budget cuts have W.Va. National Guard scrambling for funds to lease railroad shops

July 09, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority could be looking for another tenant if the West Virginia National Guard is unable to find funding to continue leasing space at the historic Baltimore & Ohio Railroad shops in Martinsburg.

Laura Gassler, acting chairwoman of the roundhouse authority’s board, said Tuesday she was formally notified last month that federal budget cuts have forced the National Guard to try to find alternative funding.

“The guard is fully committed to staying there. They’d like to continue to be tenants,” Gassler said. 

The national guard’s use of the bridge and machine shop building and immediately adjacent areas around the 20,000-square-foot building was to be worth more than $560,000 to the roundhouse authority over the five-year term of an agreement signed in 2012. The National Guard also has been helping maintain the grounds of the 13.6-acre complex and providing some security for the otherwise vacant 19th-century industrial site.

Gassler said she expects the roundhouse authority will be notified next month whether the current lease, which expires Sept. 30, will be renewed.

“We’ll just have to try to find another tenant,” Gassler said when asked what the roundhouse authority would do if the Guard is unable to continue to lease the property.

Given the financial uncertainty with the lease, along with an ongoing review of invoices, the roundhouse authority board Tuesday tabled action on payments to a contractor and an architect.  

Since the National Guard lease agreement was inked, the roundhouse authority has made arrangements to pay off old debts, including a $150,000 settlement it reached with BB&T bank to be paid off over three years. Another outstanding bill involving Whiting- Turner Contracting Co. has yet to be resolved.
 
Gassler said the loss of the National Guard as a tenant would not stop the roundhouse authority’s work to renovate a portion of the complex for bathroom facilities.

The bathroom project is being funded with a 2006 Transportation, Community and System Preservation grant. Last month, the balance of the $585,684 grant stood at $414,796 after 20 invoices since 2007 were subtracted, according to figures released by the West Virginia Division of Highways.

County Council member Elaine Mauck told board members Tuesday that the grant expired May 31, but the state Department of Transportation recently agreed to grant a one-year extension.

The extension was granted because the state has not been able to complete a required review of the bathroom project plan since it was submitted in February, according to Mauck, who serves as the county council’s liaison to the roundhouse authority.

The roundhouse authority committed to install the bathrooms in the agreement it reached with the National Guard and had hoped to have the project done before the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival in October. The roundhouse authority Tuesday separately approved the festival’s request to rent the roundhouse and Frog & Switch building for $2,000 again this year.

Architect Matthew Grove said in January that the bathroom project could take 75 to 150 days to complete. The roundhouse authority on Tuesday agreed to enter a memorandum of understanding with the Berkeley County Council to help oversee construction of the bathrooms.

The Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority was formed in 1999 to preserve, restore and redevelop the property, which was purchased by the Berkeley County Commission and then transferred to the authority, a public corporation created by an act of the state Legislature.

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