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Armory Repairs Will Soon Begin

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The city has finally chosen a contractor to clear out and stabilize the building, a project expected to cost around $550,000. Work is scheduled to begin Jan. 1.

The building at 122 West Leigh St., built in 1885 to house the arms of a black militia unit, is the oldest armory in Virginia. It was badly damaged by fire 20 years ago and was never repaired. Its roof is caved in, and water has damaged most of the interior floors and woodwork, says Tyler Potterfield, a planner with the city's Department of Community Development.

Three years ago, the city received a grant from the federal program Save America's Treasures, designated to help save old buildings in Jackson Ward. Planners later realized that to fix the Armory alone would take all the funds and more.

It took a long time for the money to come through. In May, Potterfield says, his department requested that the city reallocate all the money to the Armory's repair and make up the expected $250,000 shortfall from its budget — a sum that will likely be approved at its meeting Jan. 2, Potterfield says.

The city rebid the project twice, he says, and examined two different strategies for shoring up the Armory's walls. The city has chosen Davis Bros. to be the contractor. The Boston-based firm of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. has already completed a structural analysis of the building.

Based on their diagnosis, Potterfield says, the contractor will gut the building from ceiling to basement, remove asbestos and old heating machinery, brace the walls and take out unstable masonry, and install a new roof. The project has a budget of $620,000, but he expects $65,000 will be unused.

In the end, Potterfield says wryly, the city will be left with "a very nice, very attractive and very stable shell of a building" — its future as yet undecided.

Last week, Selden Richardson, a historian for the Alliance To Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods, urged the city to quickly issue a formal Request for Proposals, so agencies and developers could suggest new uses for the historic structure.

Richardson, who has continually expressed his frustration at the city's neglect, says he hopes the Armory will eventually be transformed into "something that would illuminate the history of Jackson Ward." — M.S.S.

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