Elkins to buy old Armory

ELKINS – In a historic joint meeting, Elkins City Council announced Thursday it plans to purchase the former Elkins National Guard Armory, with the Randolph County Commission agreeing to “step back” to allow the city to obtain sole ownership of the facility.

The announcement comes after more than two years of county and city officials working together on the issue, followed by several months of halting progress on a joint purchase by the two governing bodies.

Commissioner Mike Taylor said Thursday officials were told in 2012 “the building is structurally sound … it needs a little cleaning but it is in good shape for the age that it is.

“We had indepth meetings with representatives of the city… Mayor (Van) Broughton quickly got on board… Most of the City Council members here took a tour of the facility,” Taylor said.

Although the city and county intended to buy the facility together – even announcing a plan to do so earlier this summer – that idea has now been scrapped, Taylor said.

“We got to the point that we felt doing a joint venture… a joint ownership, if you will” was not the best approach, Taylor said. “We felt what would be best…would be a single ownership.”

“We are going to withdraw our letter of intent to purchase the Armory with the city,” Taylor said. “If the city wants to buy it the county would take a step back. We would work with you, but it would be a sole ownership.”

Taylor made a motion for the County Commission to withdraw their previous resolution to work toward a joint purchase of the former Armory and “let (the city) move forward with purchasing the Armory on their own.”

The motion was approved unanimously by Taylor and Commissioners Chris See and Joyce Johns.

Broughton then said, “Elkins City Council is now in session.” Councilman Mitch Marstiller made a motion to place a new ordinance – expressing the city’s intention to purchase the facility as sole owner – on the City Council agenda for its Sept. 4 meeting.

The motion passed 8 to 0. Councilman Bob Woolwine, who is on the Mountain State Forest Festival Board of Directors, abstained from the voting. Councilwoman Nanci Bross-Fregonara was absent.

City Council will have to pass the new resolution on two readings for it to go into effect.

After the votes were taken, Taylor said, “I’ve been a commissioner for seven years, and I think this is the first time the city and county have ever met in a meeting together. I think we should do it again sometime.”

Several other officials agreed it was the first example of such a joint meeting in Randolph County.

Asked by The Inter-Mountain what possible complications the officials foresaw if the city and county had purchased the former Armory together, Taylor said, “It’s the difficulty of a governing body with 10 members working with a governing body of three members and possibly having two different philosophies as to how this should go.”

“Our goal was to appoint a governing board” of commissioners and council members if the joint purchase had gone through, he said.

Taylor said his main concern was that the citizens of Randolph County be able to make good use of the former Armory, however that goal is achieved.

Broughton said, “With one governing body, the wheel can turn quicker, faster, and it can open to the public quicker.”

Councilman Carman Metheny pointed out it would be easier for one governing body to successfully apply for grants than for two bodies to do so.

Asked if the city already had plans for how the facility will be used, Broughton said it would be premature to speak publicly on that issue at this time. However, he promised “we’ll move quick, it will not sit. We will take action as quick as possible.”

A joint prepared statement released Thursday by the city and county said officials were told in 2012 the former Armory would be decommissioned and “offered for sale, first to government entities such as the Randolph County Board of Education, the Randolph County Commission and/or the city of Elkins. If a public entity did not purchase the Armory, the National Guard said, it would be sold at public auction.”

“The initial proposed plan was that the city and county would jointly establish and appoint representatives to an authority, similar to the Elkins-Randolph County Airport Authority, which would then purchase and direct the operations of the Armory,” the release states. “However, after further analysis and consideration, it has become clear that the public interest would be best served if the Armory were owned by only one entity.”

On Aug. 7, Elkins City Council approved on its first reading an ordinance allowing the city and the County Commission to buy the former Armory. The second and final reading of the ordinance was on the agenda for the Aug. 14 City Council meeting, but after Council met in executive session for more than an hour no vote was taken on the issue.

The proposed Armory purchase plan’s price was announced as $200,000, with the cost being split equally between the city and county.

Taylor announced the joint Armory purchase plan 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.