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Charles Town progressing on $4M historic redo

Journal photo by Mary Stortstrom Charles Washington Hall, at the corner of George and Washington streets in Charles Town, is currently undergoing renovations.
Journal photo by Mary Stortstrom
Charles Washington Hall, at the corner of George and Washington streets in Charles Town, is currently undergoing renovations.

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — The city of Charles Town is making headway on its renovation project at historic Charles Washington Hall.

Charles Washington Hall, located at the corner of George and Washington streets in downtown Charles Town, was originally constructed in 1874. The building was used as the town hall after the Civil War, and had been home to a Chinese restaurant until December 2014, when the building was closed for the renovation project.

The Charles Washington Hall renovation project carries a $3.95 million price tag.

The Charles Town city council secured a $3 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture with a $200,000 appropriation in 2014.

The city will repay the loan through its capital improvement fund, which includes video lottery revenue.

At a meeting of the Building Commission of the city of Charles Town on Tuesday, the commissioners discussed the details of the project’s progress, including financial data.

“With this project, our revenues have exceeded expenditures by about $100,000,” said Chris Bontoft, operations manager for the project. “As the USDA money comes in, it goes back out. It’s sort of a pass-through. The city is trying to recoup the money they paid out-of-pocket.”

As far as the building itself, Matthew Grove of Grove and Dall’Olio Architects said the walls and floors of Charles Washington Hall have been demolished, allowing workers to see some structural issues that had previously been hidden.

“We’re getting lots of requests for clarification on some of these items because they had been concealed,” he said. “With a project like this, there are always surprises. There have been so many additions to the building over the years. The first one was five years after the original building was finished.”

Some examples of hidden structural issues include rusted steel window frames on windows that had been bricked over from the outside and removal of a chimney, supported only by wooden two-inch by four-inch beams that was not historic in nature but had been added on later to accommodate a wood burning stove.

Cellars in the basement were also flooded when workers first went in, but they have been drained, Grove said.

Grove said now that workers can see everything in the building, the costs to fix some of these once hidden items should be calculated by the end of July.

Another issue, brought up by Jane Arnett of the Charles Town Utility Board, is how water lines will be connected to Charles Washington Hall once other work is underway.

If the building gets its water from a water line off of Liberty Street, an $83,000 pump could be needed to connect the water to fire suppression systems.

The other option would be to connect to a water line underneath Washington Street, an endeavor Arnett described as “a nightmare.”

“Working on Washington Street would be a nightmare. We went ahead and applied for a permit with the Division of Highways, but the street would have to be closed for two or three days, with no parking along the entire block,” she said. “And, we still don’t know how we can (access the water main under Washington Street) without hitting the traffic signal wiring under the street.”

The building commissioners voted to go with the Washington Street option, which was outlined in the project design documents.

When the building is finished in 2016, it will be turned into a multipurpose community center.

According to Charles Town mayor Peggy Smith, there have been discussions of putting a year-round, indoor farmers market, a coffee shop, a visitors center and a public transit stop in on the first floor of the building.

The second floor, which Smith said was once a theater and still has seats, could be used as a concert venue, a public meeting room or an art gallery.

“Nothing is set in stone, but these are some of the things we hope to have,” Smith said.

Though the Charles Washington Hall renovation project is costly-in terms of time, money and labor-Smith said it’s worth it to her to preserve the vision of Charles Washington, founder of the city who donated “the four corners” at the intersection of George and Washington streets to the public shortly after the city’s founding in 1786.

Though Charles Washington Hall had been used by the public, Smith said the building itself was becoming unsafe due to its condition.

“Charles Washington was really the first developer here,” she said. “The building represents our pledge to him to continue public use of the building all these years later. Now was the time to make the decision to save this treasure or tear it down. The cost for a project like this is unreal, but I say in the long run, it’s worth it. This is how we preserve our history.”

– Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.

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