South Pittsburg eyes armory purchase

South Pittsburg eyes armory purchase

January 12th, 2013 by Ryan Lewis in Local Regional News

South Pittsburg, Tenn., officials are considering buying part of the abandoned U.S. National Guard Armory property at 107 E. 10th St. Part of the site will be used for a new electrical substation. Photo by Ryan Lewis

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. - Just a week after the South Pittsburg Housing Authority sold the property at 107 E. 10th St. that includes the abandoned U.S. National Guard Armory, the city is considering buying some of the land from the new owner.

The South Pittsburg City Commission voted unanimously this week to pay the Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative $1 per month for 90 days while city administrators decide how best to proceed with purchasing about 2.5 acres of the 6.4-acre site.

Mike Partin, chief operations officer for SVEC, said his organization was willing to sell the land to the city for $50,000, and that parcel would include the armory building and a maintenance building that now houses the city's public works department.

The property has been appraised for much more than the asking price, Partin said.

"We think that's a great offer," he said. "We're trying to make a difficult situation as pleasant as we can for everyone involved because [the armory] is a tremendous benefit for the community."

Partin said the rest of the property will be used to construct a new electrical substation to replace the nearly 70-year-old substation near South Pittsburg High School.

"If you want to know one of the things we lose sleep over at night, that's one of them," he said. "We've been looking for a substation site for a while. Liability, expansion and age have led us to the point where we're going to have to do something. It behooves us at the co-op to help the community, and in no way do we want to throw the city out of that [building]."

Mayor Jane Dawkins said the armory is an "icon" in the community and the city can use it in a variety of ways.

"If there is a disaster at the high school, that's where we'd go," she said. "We just used it during the storm situation last year, and it would be a great place to store food for needy families."

Dawkins said a community development block grant has a category for multihazard community emergency facilities, and city officials already have begun the paperwork to apply for those funds.

The grant includes 87 percent funding with 13 percent matching funds from the city, she said, and the money could be used for the purchase and upgrades to the facility.

If the town needed $100,000 in grant money to buy the building and improve it, South Pittsburg would pay only $13,000 of that, officials said.

"It just gets better and better," Dawkins said. "There's no promise that we'll get [the grant], but we fit a lot of the criteria that they look at. There may be some other things that we can come up with. We'll certainly look at options."

Officials said the old building on the land now being used as a recycling center is not included in the available property, and that operation will have to be relocated soon.

Partin said the old substation will be dismantled and the property donated to the Marion County school system, while the new substation will upgrade the area's electrical service significantly.

"It will be 100 times better than what we've had previously," he said.

The board will hold a public hearing Jan. 22 at South Pittsburg City Hall to discuss the purchase.