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"Structural Concerns Force Closure of Purcellville Roller Rink" - Leesburg Today, June 11, 2009

Leesburg, Maryland

By Margaret Morton
Leesburg Today

One of the town's proudest accomplishments of last year was the acquisition of Fireman's Field and its dominant building, the Purcellville Roller Rink, originally the Tabernacle at the Bush Meeting Ground.

Today, however, the town closed the rink for the foreseeable future after receiving a report from contractor Fitzgerald Heavy Timber Construction, of Thurmont, MD, and its timber framing consultant A.F. McCormick Structural Engineering from Shepherdstown, WV, warning of public safety concerns about the building in severe weather.

The report was received Tuesday, but was not able to be reviewed by town staff until yesterday because of the council meeting Tuesday night. Yesterday evening, Town Manager Robert W. Lohr advised Mayor Bob Lazaro that the building should be closed immediately.

While the building is not in great risk of collapse, the town is exercising caution. "After staff looked at the report, for safety purposes, health and welfare, it was decided it should not be occupied," Lohr said today.

The town had already known it would have to close the century old building at some point to replace the heavy asbestos shingle roof, which was causing the wooden walls to bow. Fitzgerald Heavy Timber Construction had been hired several months ago to do that work, and it was the report from Fizgerald's expert consultant that resulted in the warning to the town.

The report came as a shock, even though Lazaro said some structural problems "were not unanticipated," but he said this morning there was no hesitation among council members in closing the rink. "We take our stewardship role very seriously" and public safety is paramount, he said.

Last night and this morning the town administration moved quickly, contacting Philip Message, manager of the Purcellville Teen Center which meets weekly at the roller rink, and Chantelle D. Savage, who leases the building from the town, to inform them of the closure. Savage's lease with the town expires June 26 and the council had voted Tuesday to extend the lease, although it had not yet been signed. Lohr said both Message and Savage had been very understanding of the town's position. The new lease, Lohr said, factors in protections for both the lessee and the town, noting the town will waive Savage's rental and work with her to minimize the impact to her business.

Lazaro said he has informed County Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) of the closure, while Lohr talked to Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Diane Ryburn about helping find alternative space for the teen center until the roof and stabilization work is completed. The town also is working with the town property owners to see if there is vacant space where the center could be accommodated.

The building is in no imminent danger of collapse, both Lazaro and Lohr said. But, heavy vertical or horizontal loads on the frame of the building, as can be occur in severe weather, could cause sufficient structural stress to result in a potential for public harm. Compounded with the known roof problems, a vertical load could push the building beyond an acceptable stress level, according to the report, while a horizontal load, from severe winds, which commonly do occur at this time of the year, could put great stress on the side of the building.

"The risk is too great,' Lohr said.

The basic problem is one that preservation experts say is common in historic frame buildings originally constructed to hold lighter roof coverings. In the post World War II era, it became popular to replace tin or wooden shingle roofs, or worse, cover them, with heavier, asbestos shingle roofs. Over time, those roofs have revealed themselves to be too heavy for the wooden structure beneath, sometimes resulting in their basically crushing the structural fame of the building.

The Tabernacle was built in 1904 by well-known Loudoun builder Arch Simpson for a cost of $2,500 in the currency of the day, and until Dulles Airport was constructed in 1962, was the largest structure to be built in the county. Eventually it became home to the roller rink, and became a venue for wrestling matches, concerts and antique shows among other activities. It was purchased by the Purcellville Volunteer Fire Department in the late 1950s, and sold to the town last year.

Over the years, the simple, original post and beam structure received multiple roof coverings, Lohr said, as well as modifications to the structure itself, including replacing the original dirt floor with a heavy wood floor and adding a mezzanine, air conditioning and plumbing. Those extensive modifications and the heavy roofs added over the years eventually caused the frame walls to bow and torque.

When the town purchased Fireman's Field, it placed the entire property under a conservation easement with the state. Lohr said the town had a number of objectives, including protecting the largest stand of oaks in the county, the building and its $2.5 million athletic fields.

When the town did an original assessment of the structure, it quickly became apparent the roof had to be fixed. "We need to do this as quickly as possible. The first priority is to remove the roof," Lazaro said today.

This morning, Lohr held an emergency conference call meeting with staff and the contractor, and said the situation would be handled on an emergency basis, so the process can be streamlined. He noted the work has to be done expeditiously, both for the normal operations of the building and to be completed well ahead of the Babe Ruth Series Championship to be held at Fireman's Field next summer.

As to how much the work will cost and the possible time frame of the renovations, Lohr said he would know more next week. He has assembled a town project task force, including Director of Public Utilities Samer S. Beidas, to work with the contractor and its consultant. Lohr also hoped to meet with Virginia Department of Historic Resources' Regional Director David Edwards shortly. When the scope of the renovations becomes clearer, the town will know better what it has to secure in the way of permits and how to meet the timeline.

The town purchased Fireman's Field for $1.75 million. The property was appraised in 2007 at $3.5 million and the fire department essentially made a donation of the difference between the agreed price and the appraised value.

The town has budgeted $350,000 for Fireman's Field upgrades in FY11, along with $350,000 for the rink, also in FY11, and another $650,000 for the building in FY12.

While planning for the work, the town did not expect to have to face the problems quite so soon. How much it will have to spend on the renovations to a building that has been at the center of community life, and increasingly so since the town acquired it last year, will depend on the nature of the problems that will have to be fixed.

One silver lining is that the town can now apply for funding assistance at the federal, state and local levels and to the private sector to help preserve what Lohr called a major resource and asset for the town. "It will take a group of partners, working together," he said, noting Lazaro has already made contacts to that end.

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Heavy vertical or horizontal loads on the frame of the building, as can be occur in severe weather, could cause sufficient structural stress to result in a potential for public harm.

Heavy vertical or horizontal loads on the frame of the building, as can be occur in severe weather, could cause sufficient structural stress to result in a potential for public harm.