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Ro-Na roof plans start to take shape

IRONTON — Following decades of neglect and a few months of indecision, downtown Ironton’s Ro-Na Theatre is on track for its much-anticipated makeover.

With summer just a few days away, reconstruction of the Ro-Na has begun in earnest with the eradication of the theatre’s 60-year-old patchwork roof, or at least what is left of it. Depending on weather, the roof is expected to be totally removed within the next few weeks.

Once complete, the first phase of the theater’s resuscitation is installing new decking and roofing materials in order to shore up the top of the building that has seen extensive water damage devastate much of the Ro-Na’s interior.

As it stands, the Ro-Na’s current owners, the city of Ironton, will be picking up the tab for the labor to install the decking and roofing materials along with the roofing materials themselves. The decking materials are being purchased with $25,000 the Ironton Port Authority donated towards the Ro-Na as part of the Honeywell property sale to Mi-De-Con Construction, Inc.

Mi-De-Con was the lone bidder to install the decking when the city of Ironton put the construction project out to bid last month. Mayor Rich Blankenship confirmed Thursday that Mi-De-Con had bid on the project but said the labor contract for the Ro-Na’s decking installation still had not been awarded.

Blankenship added that the roofing and the labor to install it has unofficially been awarded to Chesapeake-based Fairfax, Inc. The mayor said numerous companies submitted bids for the roofing portion of the theater’s reconstruction.

The city plans on picking up its portion of the roofing tab with monies currently allocated in the city’s Debt Retirement Sinking Fund. The fund is an account the city can use to make improvements to specific assets not covered in other budgets. The fund acquires money through the sale of city assets — mostly property.

A sinking fund is not funding from any type of citizen tax dollars.

However, with limited monies available in the fund and a portion of it already spent earlier this year on emergency repairs to Memorial Hall, the city, along with the newly formed Ro-Na steering committee will be looking to raise the estimated $140,000 by tapping into the city’s business and industry sector.

“We are preparing a plan on how we are going to pay for this,” Blankenship said. “We are going to exhaust all avenues before tapping into city funds.”

One of those avenues Blankenship mentioned was asking many of the out-of-town businesses and contractors who have received work in the city to support the continued redevelopment of the Ro-Na and downtown.

The mayor did not give a specific timeline on how long the city would try to fundraise to pay for the roof before tapping into the city’s sinking fund.

The deed to the Ro-Na was transferred to the city in February 2008. Besides the theater, three storefronts that bookend the theatre were also part of the package.

While the long term goal for the city is to donate the Ro-Na to a to-be-created, non-for-profit, 501c3 charitable group, Ironton will probably be hanging onto the historic theater for the near future.

The thought process around city hall is the city would have a better chance than a non-for-profit, to secure downtown development grants that could ease the financial burden in repairing the Ro-Na.

Opening in 1949, the once-glorious Ro-Na is part of a generation of vaudeville houses and movie palaces throughout the state that have fallen on hard times in recent decades.

Since being used as an auto parts store, the roof has decayed and rain has damaged items that were left in the building.

Engineers have said that, other than the roof, the 60-year-old building is in good structural condition.

The next meeting of the Ro-Na steering committee is June 26 at 3 p.m. at the Ironton City Center.

Blankenship said anyone wanting to serve or volunteer on the committee should contact him directly.