The Coombs Armory has termites.
Adding to previously identified structural problems, the Armory is now known to harbor both drywood and subterranean termites and eradicating them could add an additional $100,000 to the cost of renovating the building.
Two weeks ago, County Extension Agent Bill Mahan, whose office is in the Armory, noticed a swarm of insects emerging from the inside wall in the rear right corner of the building.
On examination, the insects were found to be drywood termite swarmers. When adult termites are ready to mate, they grow wings and fly away from their home colony to create a new nest. Swarming termites mean the parent colony is at least two years old and growing in size.
Franklin County is on the northern edge of the natural range of drywood termites and, while they are found here, they are not as common as subterranean termites, which are the kind most often infesting structures in this area. Their colonies are larger than drywood termites’ and cause more damage, more quickly. While subterranean termites must normally maintain contact with the ground for a constant water supply, drywood termites can build a nest that has no contact with the ground.
Subterranean termites are most often treated by injecting pesticides into the ground around the infested structure. Drywood termites are treated by tenting the structure with tarps and pumping in poison gas.
Two pest control operators who evaluated the infestation at the Armory estimated the cost of treating the drywood termites between $60,000 to $100,000.
An inspector working for the county noticed additional wings in the front entry of the Armory and, on examination; these proved to be from subterranean termites indicating the Armory also has an infestation of those insects. Also, there is visible damage from subterranean termites in a door frame in the storage area at the rear of the building.
The estimated cost of treatment for subterranean termites is $6,000 or more. Since the Armory is constructed primarily of brick, the damage is believed to be restricted to the wooden inner walls, stairway and second story floors.
County Planner Alan Pierce said he will examine the area behind the wall where the drywood swarm emerged. He said it is unlikely the county will pay to have the Armory tented to treat the drywood infestation due to the high cost.
“We will investigate the extent of the damage and probably simply replace the damaged wood,” said Pierce.
Both Mahan and Nikki Millender, the county parks and recreation director who also has an office in the building, said this was the first time either had seen termites emerge.
Anthony Taranto, who was a longtime caretaker of the structure, said that, to his knowledge, there was never a termite infestation during his tenure. He said that, in addition to foot-thick brick walls, massive pine beams were used in the construction of the fort.
Pierce said he was not surprised to find termites in the building given its advanced age.
Restoration of the Armory and its conversion to a convention center has been under way for a year, using funds provided by the Tourist Development Council (TDC). To date, most of the money was spent on repairing the roof of an addition to the right side of the building and replacing wood damaged by water from a leak.
On April 16, commissioners unanimously approved the final payment on the first phase of the Armory restoration project.
“The budget from the TDC for repairs was $248,000 and the construction costs, including a change order, were $186,771,” Pierce said. “There were architectural fees in addition to the construction fees so the total cost of the current renovations was about $230,000. Therefore, there is still some $18,000 in funds available for other repairs.”
He said Millender, who also manages the Armory, requested the remaining money be used to hire an electrician to fix the outside light that shines over the entrance door, and to clean up the kitchen area.
Commissioners approved the request and instructed Millender to get three bids for work on the kitchen. She said a contractor has yet to be selected for those tasks.
In a telephone interview, Millender said a contractor has not been chosen for either task.
At the same meeting, Chairman Cheryl Sanders instructed Pierce to send a letter to the TDC asking when the next allocation of funds for the Armory project will be available.
A historical marker erected near the armory in 2004 reads, "The Franklin Guards, a company of Infantry organized in Apalachicola in 1884 by J.H. Coombs and Fred Betterfield, erected the first building in the city to be used solely as an armory in 1898. Made of simulated brick, it was located at the corner of High Street and Center Avenue. On May 25, 1900, fire destroyed it and much of the downtown. On July 3, 1900, a committee was formed to build a new armory. The facility was designed by Frank and Thomas Lockwood of Columbus, Georgia and constructed by John H. Hecker. It was completed in 1901 at a cost of $12,000. The replacement armory features real brick walls and a gable roof with a gable parapet. Solid massing of the walls, slit windows, and a corner tower that resembles a medieval watchtower make this an imposing military structure. Fort Coombs is a unique example of fortress architecture in Florida, and has served as the military and social nexus of Apalachicola for more than a century. Units stationed here have been mobilized for service in World Wars I and II, the Gulf War and the War with Iraq. Bronze plaques located on the exterior front wall memorialize the names of generations of Apalachicola and Franklin County citizens who have served their State and Nation."