Armory deal passes first reading

ELKINS – Elkins City Council approved on its first reading Thursday an ordinance allowing the city and the Randolph County Commission to purchase the former Elkins National Guard Armory.

“We’ve been working with the county on this for a long time,” Mayor Van Broughton said. “We’re glad it’s finally come to a vote. The first reading is complete; now we go to the second reading.”

The purchase price will be $200,000, with the cost being split equally between the city and county. The ordinance must still be passed on its second reading – at Council’s Aug. 21 meeting – for the purchase deal to move forward.

Council met in executive session for nearly an hour Thursday before voting 8 to 1 to pass the resolution. Voting in favor were council members Mitch Marstiller, Gene Ochsendorf, Mark D. Scott, Carman L. Metheny, Marilynn Cuonzo, Nanci Bross-Fregonara, Joe Sabatino and Jim Bibey. Voting against the resolution was First Ward Councilman Lonnie Randall, while the other First Ward representative, Bob Woolwine, abstained from voting.

No discussion or comments on the purchase deal were offered by council members either before or after the vote. After Thursday’s meeting, Broughton said he thought purchasing the Armory was a positive move for the city.

“I’m glad to see it. I’m real excited about it,” Broughton said. “We started on this before I became the mayor, and it’s one of the first projects when I became mayor that we got working on. It’s been many months in the making.”

Although Broughton seemed enthusiastic, council members approached after the meeting declined to be quoted on the Amory purchase issue, with one saying there were still problems to be ironed out before the second reading.

Randall said he had a specific reason for voting against the purchase, but noted he would wait until after the second reading to make any public comment on the issue.

The ordinance was included in the agenda for the July 17 Council meeting, but after a 45-minute executive session no vote was taken. After that meeting, Broughton told The Inter-Mountain the ordinance had “been pushed back. No decision has yet been made. We’re still talking and gathering all the information together.”

After Thursday’s meeting, Broughton said the point of contention discussed in executive session that prompted the July 17 vote to be pushed back had been “looked into. We’re moving forward with this.”

Although the Armory purchase ordinance has been on the last two Council agendas, the ordinance itself was not provided to the press along with the agendas, as is the city’s standard practice.

In a phone call Thursday, City Clerk Sutton Stokes initially refused The Inter-Mountain’s request for a copy of the ordinance.

“It contains information that we are not at liberty to make public, according to the National Guard,” Stokes said.

About 30 minutes later, Stokes sent The Inter-Mountain an email containing a copy of the ordinance with all the dollar amounts redacted.

“I don’t mean to be cagey, but, when we first entered into negotiations, the NG requested that all parties keep the proposed purchase price confidential until official public action was taken,” Stokes wrote. “As I am unaware that the NG has released us from that request, I do not feel that I am authorized to share an unredacted copy of the ordinance.”

At Thursday’s Council meeting, after Council passed the ordinance on its first reading, Stokes stood up and walked to the press table, placing before The Inter-Mountain’s reporter an unredacted copy of the ordinance.

Randolph County Commissioner Mike Taylor announced the Armory purchase plan – including the dollar amounts – at the July 17 Commission meeting. He said the deal would include the main Armory building, which is about 20,000 square feet, 8 acres of land near Elkins Middle School and several utility buildings.

Numerous outside entities have expressed interest in utilizing the building. The Mountain State Forest Festival has presented the County Commission with a letter of intent that they want to be an intricate part of the facility, possibly even a lessee, Taylor said.

The County Commission and Elkins City Council have been working with the Randolph County Development Authority and the Mountain State Forest Festival board of directors to obtain the former Armory for use as a community building.

Construction of the new $15.5 million Armed Forces Reserve Center, located just off Corridor H near Belington, has made the old Armory obsolete.

In January 2013, a feasibility study, initiated by the RCDA, was presented to local agencies to provide information on the costs of maintaining and upgrading the building.