Vol. 13, No. 22   Nov. 16 - 29, 2000


Kingsbridge Armory Drill Hall to Get New Roof 
Renovation Project to Take 14 Months


What will ultimately go inside the Kingsbridge Armory still depends on a political process yet to fully unfold, but it is now clear that the landmark facility will not be left to rot.

That's because restoration of the 240,000-square-foot roof over the armory's gigantic drill hall is about to get under way.

The project's major players outlined the project to the Norwood News in an exclusive tour on Oct. 30.

Beginning on Dec. 11, workers will erect scaffolding and begin replacing the wooden roof one bay at a time. Each of the 13 roof bays will take one month to complete.

The project is complicated because of the height of the roof, its size (the drill hall is thought to be the largest in the country and perhaps the world) and environmental considerations. It will take three to four weeks simply to erect a working platform. Once workers have reached the roof, they will first have to remove asbestos in the roof and then lead paint in the 14 metal trusses that separate the bays. This process of abatement and reconstruction will occur simultaneously and will take about 14 months, according to the project's engineer.

Referring to the trusses, an official of the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC) who organized the tour on the condition that he would not be identified by name, said, "We would argue they've probably never been cleaned in the history of the building."

The roof, which only two years ago had only a handful of missing planks, now is a patchwork of sky and wooden planks, leaving the entire building vulnerable to the rain. The material used in the reconstruction of the roof is still under consideration, the EDC official said, and will depend on discussions with the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. The opaque material that now blocks light from the top of the two curved walls at each end of the drill hall will be replaced with glass.

For several months, an Atlanta-based firm, ET Environmental, scoured the entire armory taking samples of "constituents" - materials considered potentially hazardous. Those materials include lead paint, asbestos, insulation, pigeon excrement (known as guano), and even mushrooms that have cropped up in the building as a result of water damage.

"All the water damage is from the lack of a roof," the EDC official said. For instance, wooden auditorium seating in the armory's striking underground theatre was ruined after the National Guard vacated the facility in 1994, all because of the rain pouring down on the drill hall floor, according to the official.

"You had to replace the roof to save the building," the official said, adding that concentrating on the rest of the building first "would be like painting your house with big holes in the roof."

The roof replacement and other abatement work in the rest of the building could pave the way for the city's plan to redevelop the armory as a shopping mall, movie theatre and athletic center. Bill Higginbotham, president of ET Environmental, who participated in the tour, predicted that the restoration and renovation of the building could be complete by the Christmas retail season in 2003.

Whether that season will bring the ringing of cash registers, school bells or both, has yet to be determined.

EDC officials are adamant that it is their plan that will carry the day, but that will depend on political maneuvering, and the land use review process which will take at least six months once it begins. Councilman Adolfo Carrion, whose district includes the armory, wants the city to alter its plans to include at least one school in the facility. (Carrion held a joint City Hall public hearing with Councilwoman June Eisland, chair of the Land Use Committee, on Tuesday - too late to report on for this issue - to discuss the fate of the armory.) School District 10's overcrowding crisis has prompted parents and school officials to call for using the armory as an education complex.

The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, a grassroots group with offices in 10 neighborhoods, has organized several rallies and protests in front of the armory to garner support for their proposal, which calls for three public schools in the facility. The plan has been endorsed by Congressman Eliot Engel, and Randi Weingarten, head of the city teachers' union.

Ed. note: All Norwood News coverage of the Kingsbridge armory over the last two years is archived in "Ongoing Story."

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