Summerville council to discuss use for old armory

Renovating Summerville’s armory building could cost at least $2 million. Buy this photo

SUMMERVILLE — A white elephant is tough to nudge along. But Town Council keeps trying.

Twelve years after town leaders horse-traded property with the S.C. National Guard to acquire its old armory, the town still can’t figure out what to do with it. The latest idea is a recycling of an earlier one, turning it into a police headquarters instead of building a new one. The move ideally would separate the armory’s gym to allow it to be used by the community.

Town Council members are reviewing two earlier studies to decide if they want to pay for a third, to see if the armory can be used that way.

The magic word here might be asbestos. The half-century-old armory was built during a time when asbestos almost certainly was used. The questions are: How much and where? Is it easily removable or would it require biohazard shielding and major work?

Edward Tupper, the Summerville builder who did a walk-through last year when the town was considering moving its police, is cautiously optimistic, depending on asbestos.

“Once you can get the old issues out of it and bring it up to code, it would be a nice building,” he said.

Tupper did a partial assessment after that walk-through and will do a more complete follow-up for the council.

The other study is a feasibility study for a civic center contracted in 2012 by the Arts Business Civic Coalition of Summerville/Dorchester County. The results stuck the armory on the second shelf of potential locations. The 14,000-square-foot building includes an open hall (gym) framed by smaller offices and rooms. It’s too small, has too little parking and a poor layout for performances, so a permanent stage couldn’t be installed.

Some of those problems would also be problems renovating it as a police station, especially with a community gym alongside.

Other ideas have ranged from turning it into a community center to simply razing it and starting over. The building is estimated to need at least $2 million in repairs.

But the armory has sentimental value, used for years as a community dance hall. Its assets include a bas-relief by Willard Hirsch, the 20th century Charleston sculptor who won national recognition. The concrete sculpture has been removed from the wall outside the armory for safekeeping.

The property is part of a recently restored recreational complex in the once-neglected Brownsville community. It sits at Doty Field — the old ball park the town has renovated as a recreation park — and adjacent to the popular Faith Sellers Senior Center, the Dorchester County nonprofit.

A council public safety committee last week recommended doing a comparative cost analysis of renovating the armory for police or building a new police station. That may well be the next nudge into this elephant. But Mayor Bill Collins suggested first taking one more look at what the earlier studies found.

“We may be able to figure out something from those,” he said.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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