published Friday, March 30th, 2012

6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe may get new home

Director Chris McKeever looks through paperwork in her office at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. The museum is eyeing a move to the building that was once the old Fort's gymnasium, a structure that is currently occupied by Tootsie's Treasures, a consignment shop.
Director Chris McKeever looks through paperwork in her office at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. The museum is eyeing a move to the building that was once the old Fort's gymnasium, a structure that is currently occupied by Tootsie's Treasures, a consignment shop.
Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Dillon Breazeale, 16, poses for a photo next to a mannequin wearing a military police uniform at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. The museum is eyeing a move to the building that was once the old Fort's gymnasium, a structure that is currently occupied by Tootsie's Treasures, a consignment shop.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Will the gymnasium built in 1904 at the Fort Oglethorpe Army Post be transformed into a community center and the new home of the 6th Cavalry Museum?

Or will the stately old gym building on LaFayette Road, located near the entrance of the Chickamauga Battlefield, continue to house Tootie's Treasures consignment shop?

An answer may arise at a work session today that the Fort Oglethorpe City Council is holding at 1 p.m.

The Catoosa County Commission made a motion on March 20, saying it was willing to buy the 10,000-square-foot former gymnasium for $350,000 from consignment store owner Judy O'Neal. The money would come from special purpose local option sales tax money.

The county would own the building, but doesn't want to pay for its operations, maintenance or other ongoing expenses. So it wants to lease the old gym to Fort Oglethorpe, giving the city the chance to use the building as some combination of a battlefield visitor's center, community center and leased space for the nonprofit 6th Cavalry Museum, which currently is in a nondescript, newer building on nearby Barnhardt Circle.

It's typical for Catoosa County to set up that kind of arrangement when it buys property using SPLOST funds, County Attorney C. Chad Young said. For example, if the county bought playing fields, recreational associations would handle the upkeep.

But Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Lynn Long said an inspection showed the historic gym building needs $248,000 in repairs, "not counting asbestos or lead-based paint or any other issues."

"The city just can't expend that amount of money on something we do not own," Long said.

He said he's spoken with all five city councilmen and "I don't see any support whatsoever for it."

In a March 21 letter from Young, the county asked Fort Oglethorpe to make up its mind by early April as to whether it wants to go ahead with the project. If not, the county will reallocate the $350,000 in SPLOST money to other projects, Young wrote.

"The county has gotten mixed signals, frankly," the attorney said. Buying the historic gym is "something that the city [proposed] to the county a while back, and it's just kind of laid there and languished there."

The gym's owner also wants the city to make up its mind.

"They've been dickering with me ... we're into a year and a half," said O'Neal.

She likes the idea of the museum moving in, but if the deal falls through, "it don't bother me because I make a lot of money [at Tootie's Treasures]."

Christine McKeever, the museum's executive director, hopes the city takes up the county's offer to buy the historic gym, which has a pressed-tin ceiling, heart-of-pine floors and original beadboard, or wooden wall paneling.

"It makes sense to have the museum as a gateway to the battlefield," McKeever said. "We would be in an actual historic, [Army] post building."

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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