Age caught up with the Memorial Hall years ago, spurred by the lack of funding for any meaningful maintenance work. Today, Father Time continues to further disable the historic facility.
The roof leaks, causing plaster to fall from the ceiling. The HVAC system is broken, and windows need to be fixed. Those are just a few of its problems.
Its poor condition has become such an issue that commissioners this month said no one will be allowed to rent or lease its space. Organizations like the Allen County Veterans Food Pantry are now looking for other facilities to house their operations.
The commissioners’ decision to shut down Memorial Hall came after they had the County Risk Sharing Authority of Ohio perform a risk assessment of the building.
Yet in taking such action, Jay Begg, Cory Noonan and Greg Sneary followed the same path of previous commissioners: They stopped short of suggesting any plan or timetable for Memorial Hall to be renovated, sold, or torn down.
Such a discussion needs to happen and it cannot be done in a vacuum. If we learned one thing from the recent debacle over the renaming of Lima Stadium, it’s the public needs to have sufficient input before a decision is reached. Memorial Hall has too much sentimental value in this community for anything less.
Memorial Hall’s deep cultural roots reflect a time when it once was the county’s premiere concert and lecture venue, hosting such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt as well as concerts by John Philip Sousa’s band. The massive marble staircase that rises from the foyer to a second-floor open balcony is a dominating aspect of its architecture. Outdoors, people are greeted by rows of cement steps leading up to its doorways. In 1979, Memorial Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are no easy answers on what should happen next at the corner of West Elm and Elizabeth streets. Renovations are estimated to cost at least $2 million. Using tax money for repairs should not be an option, especially given all the demands for public funds. That leaves the door open to only private sector funding, a sale of the building, or its demolition.
A timetable for action needs to be set by commissioners. What cannot be allowed is for Memorial Hall to continue to sit idle and deteriorate.