Officials tour armory progress

MARIETTA – Marietta development director Andy Coleman admits he struggled at times to envision the future of the former National Guard Armory on Front Street that so many supporters saw.

That changed Friday as Coleman, Mayor Joe Matthews and other city administrators toured the interior of the building for the first time in several months and saw the progress made in the second phase of the Armory Square project.

“(I’m) really starting to get a vision for what it could be,” Coleman said.

The last time he toured the building, in December, there were open segments of floors, sagging ceilings and floors and more signs of the wear and tear of more than 90 years, plus infiltration of water from leaks in the roof and windows. On Friday, city officials saw ceilings properly reinforced, damaged beams replaced and floors covered and sturdy.

“They’re doing a fantastic job,” Matthews said after exiting the building. “It’s very, very surprising how good it looks.

“When this gets done, I think the whole city’s going to be proud,” he said.

The work apparently received the seal of approval from Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham as well. Project manager James Wark, with Pickering Associates, said that for years the fire department considered certain portions of the building “off limits” in the event of a fire because of concerns over the stability of floors.

After touring the building Friday, Durham lifted those restrictions.

“If this building caught on fire, they’re going to be all over it to save it,” Wark said.

On a tour for members of the media following the administrators’ walk-through, Coleman and Wark pointed out some of the work that’s been completed.

In the sprawling first-floor gymnasium, more than half of one side of the ceiling has been replaced with new wood which has decorative beading to match the remaining sections, which are painted white. The original plan was to only repair the portions of the roof that were in the worst shape, but Coleman said the work already done impressed Matthews and company so much that they might be inclined to replace it all – if they can pay for it.

“I think Monday they’ll have me turning over stones (to) see if there’s any more funding out there,” he said.

Wark showed off the dark wood floors in a second floor suite of offices and noted the boards had been salvaged from another portion of the building where plans called for a sub-floor.

Not only does it look nice and retain some of the building’s original atmosphere, “it saved us money. Because that was going to be all new decking,” Wark said.

The contractor on the more than $650,000 second phase of work on the Armory is E. Lee Construction Inc. of Delphos, but most of the work now being done is by Lima-based James Campbell Construction, for whom city safety-service director Jonathan Hupp had high praise.

“It’s absolutely amazing to see the transformation this building is going through,” he said. “There were folks in this town who had reservations about an out-of-town crew coming in. Those doubts have been removed” from his perspective, he said.

The next phase of work will focus on finishing the ground floor, putting in a ticket office, waiting area and lounge for drivers of bus lines that would be based out of the Armory in its capacity as a transportation hub.

There had been some concern over whether the requirements for a $252,000 National Scenic Byways grant, already extended multiple times, would be met in time for a June 30 deadline. Coleman said Friday the city appears to be in good shape as long as the work doesn’t stall.

“They really want to see us just continuing to roll,” he said.