'Grave injustice': Memorial Hall continues to deteriorate

May 7—The possibility of a dim future for Memorial Hall was forecast by some on the Joplin City Council if the building goes without repairs that could total nearly $37 million or without a rescuer.

But the City Council decided Monday night to hold further talks before deciding the building's fate.

Deterioration chiefly caused by water infiltration and settlement has occurred since a 2021 assessment, city officials were told at a council meeting Monday night.

Brian Garvey, a principal of SFS Architecture in Kansas City, said the firm was asked to look at the minimum costs to stabilize the building and prevent further deterioration, assess the cost to renovate the building so it would be suitable for public use, and to estimate demolition costs if the building were to be razed.

Garvey said that among those he assembled to compile that information were engineers from Olsson to take an overall look at the building, a structural engineer who conducted another study of the building's stability after having done so following a 2020 roof collapse there, other engineers to evaluate the building's mechanical and electrical systems, and a specialist in estimating costs.

The building's overall condition was rated at fair to poor.

Joplin's 99-year-old war memorial and events center has been closed to public use since a partial roof collapse in June 2020. At that time, the roof was patched and wood braces were installed to support that area. Since then, some small cracks have been seen in the roof structure and a new report was warranted, the city's public works director, Dan Johnson, said at a previous meeting.

In 2020, SFS Architecture was selected through a request for proposals to do a feasibility study, and that report was completed in 2021. SFS presented its recommendation, which was a full renovation and an addition on the west side of the hall. Total construction was about $30 million. The City Council placed a property and personal property tax question on the ballot in 2022 to fund the project, but it failed at the polls.

SFS also was selected to provide an updated structural analysis of the building's condition in response to council concern. The council in September called for a report on the cost to prevent further decline of the building at 212 W. Eighth St. and the cost to repair the building to reopen it as it approaches its 100th anniversary next year. At that time, then-council member Phil Stinnett asked for the assessment.

Front ramp

Garvey, in key points on Monday, reported that since 2021, there has been more decline of the brick-and-concrete front ramp leading to the building's entry. Since then, a lamppost on the exterior had broken off and left an open hole where it had stood. Both the roof and walls are taking in water, and the moisture is affecting the building to the point that things like a canopy on a side entrance are pulling away from the exterior wall and are in danger of collapse.

Interior walls are deteriorating further from moisture inside the building with some wallpaper in the lobby now loosened and bulging on the walls. Moisture in the basement is fueling the growth of more mold. Mold growth caused the local American Legion post to move out of its meeting room there several years ago. There also is settlement in that area and in the building's bathrooms.

An interior crack that previously was barely detectable is worse now at the entry to the auditorium and in the basement due to more settlement. That settlement disabled an elevator several years ago.

The building underwent extensive renovation in the 1970s, and some work was done in the 1990s. Garvey said moisture infiltration also has damaged many of the fixtures installed in the 1970s.

Mothballing cost

A minimum stabilization and mothballing process to prevent further major deterioration is estimated at $8.7 million. That would involve environmental abatement of the mold by removing all soft surfaces — such as drywall and furnishings — and ceilings, and assessing whether there is lead-based paint to be removed. It would involve demolition of the front ramp and removal of the elevator and the exterior canopies. There are nonworking air conditioners that would need to be replaced to keep air circulating in the closed building and preservation applications needed to sustain the condition for future use.

Rehabilitation by gutting the building and renovating it to current code, cleaning masonry, replacing or restoring finishes and entrances and other work is estimated at a cost of $28 million. Garvey said that both that cost and the stabilization cost would be needed to use the building again, which would account for the near $37 million he said is needed for a complete renovation.

Demolition costs of $4.8 million would include removing materials and contamination hazardous and removal of the war memorials for safekeeping before the building is razed and the site cleared and leveled.

Councilman Josh DeTar said he would like to hold a work session to discuss the options and determine how to proceed.

'Grave injustice'Councilwoman Doris Carlin said a 100-year-old building or home requires attention to needed repairs to keep the entire structure from being compromised.

"We have done a grave injustice to this building," she said. She said she did not favor a stabilization and mothballing approach.

Councilman Josh Bard said he has safety concerns about the possibilities of brick and the canopies breaking and falling off the building. He said it is a liability to the city.

Councilman Ryan Jackson said that he has a grandfather on the war memorials and that he believes that, while sad, "demolition is the best" path for the city.

"We keep kicking the can down the road" regarding the future of Memorial Hall, he said. At this point, "as a city, we've let this building die."

Councilman Chuck Copple asked if the city could send out a request for proposals for a private organization or someone to take over the building. City Manager Nick Edwards said he did not know. Copple asked that the city officials explore that possibility before deciding on a demolition. Councilman Gary Shaw agreed it would be worth the time it would take.

"There's always been a desire to save Memorial Hall. Let's see if there's something more we can do. Let's make sure we give it our best shot," Shaw said.

Mayor Keenan Cortez suggested a work session for June or early July for a comprehensive discussion on the options.

"What I hope is that the can kicking stops now," the mayor said.