2009-02-05 / Editorial

The question of the white elephant?


What do you do with a historic fixer-upper? The Town Council is trying to answer that question by debating what to do with the old highway barn at Fort Wetherill.

You could say the place is somewhat of a white elephant. The building, home to the Jamestown Highway Department for many years, was constructed in the early 1900s. During the second world war, the concrete and stucco building was part of the submarine mine and cable facility located there.

With the highway department moving to the new public works facility adjacent to the Pell Bridge, the town must now find a use for the old dilapidated building.

There are, however, a number of limitations. The Ft. Wetherill Boat Owners Association leases the waterfront east of the building for its docks. And, the state Department of Environmental Management has rehabbed the other nearby military-era buildings as offices and labs for its Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Parking is a concern. Wastewater removal is also limited.

The building is historic, so it would be better to renovate and not demolish. Fixing up the old building will be expensive.

It would be nice to make the facility available to island residents as waterfront access — simply because public access to the water is so limited these days. That's easier than it sounds.

The town could sell the property. DEM would like to purchase the building for expansion of its facility. But, reducing the amount of prime waterfront real estate owned by the town doesn't seem like a good idea.

So we need to figure out how to utilize the property without attracting big crowds. Got any ideas?

— Jeff McDonough

P.S. If you'll recall that last week I wrote about groundhogs and weather forecasting. Phil did see his shadow on Monday. If he's right, we're in for anouther six weeks of winter.

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