On March 4, county commissioners unanimously approved Phase 1, at an estimated cost of roughly $700,000, of a plan to refurbish the Fort Coombs Armory as a convention center.
In April 2009, the county leased the Armory from the state for 50 years at a cost of $300 per year. Although military operations in the building ceased more than a decade ago, the building has served as a venue for weddings, reunions, dances and more for decades.
Based on a timeline presented by architect Warren Emo, the next phase of work will begin in October and construction should be completed by March 2015.
Under instructions from county commissioners given Feb. 18, Emo identified the most urgently needed repairs to the Armory as mitigating drainage problems undermining the building’s foundation, treating active termite infestations; constructing new, updated bathrooms and installing heating and air conditioning equipment (HVAC).
“The configuration is the same. We’re just scaling the work back and phasing it,” Emo told commissioners after presenting them with updated drawings,
Cost of the proposed improvements, without the termite treatment, is estimated at $659,244. Emo said the construction can be coordinated with scheduled activities and will not disrupt regular use of the building.
The termite treatment, to be performed by Florida Pest Control of Gainesville, will cost $22,162. Florida Pest Control is donating chemicals for the treatment, totaling $5,200.
With the termite treatment, the total cost of Phase One is estimated at $681,406.
This is the second Phase 1 of repairs to the Armory orchestrated by Emo. The first Phase 1, completed in 2012 at a cost of roughly $234,000, comprised installing a new storm drain in the alley behind the building, repairing the roof and rewiring.
County Planner Alan Pierce said Emo has received approximately $59,000 in architect’s fees, about $10,000 for the work in 2012 and another $49,000 for the plans that have been presented to the commission over the last year. He will receive an additional $90,000 over time when he completes additional plans and supervises construction are finished.
Treatment of the structure for both drywood and subterranean termites will precede the rest of the work. Pierce said he expects the treatment to take place in mid-April 2014.
Once the termite treatment is complete, Emo plans to install area drains to stabilize the building’s foundation. That work will take place around the end of 2014.
Bathrooms in the Armory are now located on the northern wall of the small meeting room to the west of the main auditorium. The updated restrooms will be located at the southwest corner of the building off a small corridor that runs past the current kitchen. The timeline shows the bathrooms completed early next year.
Installation of the HVAC system for the main auditorium is scheduled between Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015. Ductwork will be installed in the attic and 40-ton HVAC units installed in the “shooting range” at the far west end of the main room. The area is enclosed to hide the machinery and reduce sound from the units. If there are sufficient additional funds, an HVAC system will also be installed for the rest of the building at that time.
Pierce said he has asked Emo for an estimate of the cost of heating or cooling the Armory during events once the new system is installed. Pierce said the cost of leasing the building would increase after the HVAC system is installed.
Parks and Recreation Director Nikki Millender said the Armory currently rents for $300 per event plus $100 for insurance.
Specifically excluded from Phase 1 of the renovation are installation of a handicapped ramp and improvements to the entry hall; construction of a new warming kitchen; improvements to the acoustics in the main auditorium and exterior improvements and window replacement. Pierce said missing windows will be replaced but not with the proposed high-impact glass.
“I think this is a good investment of TDC (Tourist Development Council) money.” said Chairman Cheryl Sanders.
On Feb. 18, TDC Administrator Curt Blair told commissioners that, with uncollected but expected revenue, the TDC could provide roughly $500,000 for the Armory upgrade to be spent within the next eight or 10 months and about $200,000 annually after that.
“That’s not going to get it done. We don’t have $700,000. This puts us at $1 million,” Commissioner Pinki Jackel said. “Is anybody going to bring forward a business plan? We haven’t got any direction.”
Emo suggested his company could arrange for a business evaluation of the Armory.
“I thought the TDC was going to do that,” Sanders said. “I’m not so worried about business plans. Right now, the most important thing is to get termites out of there and fix the drainage. We need to start saving what structure we have in the building now. This is action that was started two years ago when we decided to put excess TDC funds into the building.”
Commissioner Smokey Parrish said, “I think it’s a good plan we need to move forward with it.”