(Posted April 11, 2014)
By Sandi Latimer, Staff Writer
Wanting to know more about the closing of Galbreath Hall, supporters of the West Jefferson Youth Athletic Association (WJYAA) turned out in force at the April 7 village council meeting.
The audience filled every seat, stood along the wall behind council members, and lined the hallway leading to the meeting room on the second floor of the village’s administration building.
A few days earlier, a structural engineer recommended Galbreath Hall for “no usage.” As a result, the facility—where WJYAA equipment is stored and young athletes practice and play—was padlocked.
West Jefferson Public Service Director Dave Metzger hired the engineer to inspect the village-owned building.
The engineer found rafters pulling away, wooden beams so rotten “you could put a knife through them,” split floor beams, and bricks on the verge of falling.
Metzger said the building could be repaired, but that “it would take a large sum of money.” Necessary work includes replacing wooden ceiling trusses with steel, putting in insulation, adding lighting and making electrical improvements.
Council Vice President Steve Johnston added that there had been a gas leak at the building and a recommendation to replace one of the three furnaces.
“We thought we could run on two furnaces, but then during our second coldest and snowiest winter, a second furnace went out,” he said.
Regarding the decision to close Galbreath Hall, Johnston said, “We have a legal responsibility, and more importantly, a moral responsibility. We cannot allow one child to be injured.”
Residents upset at lack of upkeep
WJYAA supporters questioned the village’s priorities regarding maintenance of Galbreath Hall.
“It’s your building. You own it. You should have taken care of it,” said Jenny Hockenberry, a WJYAA representative who served on the organization’s board for 11 years.
“We’re willing to work with the WJYAA, but our toilets have to flush and our streets need repaired,” said council president Ron Garver about other projects under way in the village, including upgrades to the water and sewer plants to meet Environmental Protection Agency mandates.
Garver also addressed comments made by residents on social media pages stating the village is catering to businesses in the Route 29 industrial park and forgetting about local businesses and residents.
“We’ve been accused of running businesses out of town and of not caring for the village,” he said. “Council is not tearing down our town. We want to build it up.”
Regarding a solution to the closing of Galbreath Hall, Garver said he cannot justify spending $300,000 in repairs on a building that might last 10 more years. He suggested instead that the village revisit the idea of building a new community center.
He said the idea has been presented at least three times during his time on council, but that it never got off the ground.
“Maybe if we formed a committee,” he said.
“A committee should have been formed a long time ago,” Hockenberry responded, adding that she would have liked to see a new building constructed years ago.
“I would have liked to have had a new building years ago, too,” Garver said. “There was no interest, but there is now.”
When Garver asked how many people at the meeting would be willing to serve on a committee or work toward a solution, several hands went up. He passed around a clipboard, asking those interested to sign up.
He said the question of a new community center could be put before voters and that there is time to get the question on the November election ballot.
“If the voters tell me to, I will,” he said.
Several audience members asked questions about how a new community center would be used and by whom.
“If you could assure the WJYAA would have space in a new building, everyone would be on the committee,” Hockenberry said.
“I think it can be worked out,” said council member Randy Otis.
Garver said he will set a meeting with the individuals who expressed interest in forming a committee to study the possibility of a new community center.
In the meantime, short-term solutions must be found for accommodating WJYAA activities slated for this fall.