Renovation work on the War Memorial Building in Lenoir City recently got underway, and officials say the project could last until just before November after contract negotiations with Knoxville-based Merit Construction hit a snag.

Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens said “minor issues” with the company’s contract pushed the project back two or three weeks. Workers started tearing out ceiling tiles in the gymnasium June 9.

“We’re probably 30 days behind schedule; it’s a major undertaking,” Aikens said. “... We still anticipate it being done — I mean, it’ll be done this year, and it’ll be done before November. It may not be done by August because, again, there’s a lot of work here. I mean, you can see right over here part of the tiles. There was at least two layers if not three of tiles, and, of course, as you can imagine as hot as it is in here, I mean you have to take a break and a lot of asbestos type ceiling tiles” are being taken out.
In February, Lenoir City Council awarded the base bid to Merit Construction at $655,000. Massey Electric is responsible for the electrical portion of the project. The total amount for both contracts is $881,582.
Work will include replacement of windows, gymnasium ceiling tiles and heat and air conditioning units. Project funding includes a $250,000 match from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation awarded to the city in August 2014.
“It’s such an important building, just think about it,” Aikens said. “It was built for the veterans, not just of Lenoir City but for Loudon County, and it’s such an important project for Lenoir City and for veterans across the county. I mean, they can have a place to come and be proud of, and they’ve had an office there since it was built. The ladies auxiliary has an office there, with on top of everybody else using it.”
A major installation will be an all-new sprinkler system, which currently isn’t in place in the old building.
“I think that’s a must, and we already have the lines and everything pulled up there, have the water on hand, so we can do that,” Councilman Eddie Simpson said. “The state kind of urged us to do that as well, the fire marshal’s office, because we don’t know how many people we’re going to have in there at different times, and we want everybody to be safe and that’s what we did that for to kind of do what the state had encouraged us to do. I don’t think we were mandated to do it, but we wanted to do it.”
Aikens said the city is spending “over $800,000” on the building project, which includes more than $164,000 in new wiring.
“That’s a big undertaking for the city of Lenoir City, and we’re not raising taxes to do it,” Aikens said. “We’re not raising taxes, and we’re not raising utility rates. ... We’re moving Lenoir City forward.”
Simpson said he considered renovations necessary to ensure the building doesn’t deteriorate any further and remains a usable and key part in the community.
“It had deteriorated for the last 50 years, and this is bringing it back to its original status, and I think it’s something that the county can be proud of,” Simpson said. “We were able to do that through a grant, as you know, and I just think it’s great for the community to keep something like that and keep it in really, really good shape.”
Plans to install an elevator were pushed aside due to “budget constraints,” Aikens said, noting he hopes to revisit the idea sometime in the future. Placing an elevator in the old building would have cost $80,000.
“But I hope later on to be able to come in and put in an elevator and finish the upstairs renovations in hopes to maybe have small concerts here,” Aikens said. “It’s a huge building and everybody knows where it’s at. (It’s been used) so much over the years. And again, it’s a historical building. It’s part of Lenoir City. It’s part of downtown.”
Zack Cusick, program coordinator for the city’s parks and recreation department, said he hopes to have a reopening ceremony once renovation is complete.
“It could potentially boost it,” Cusick said about increased interest in the building. “I know everybody’s — especially the people that live closer to downtown — really interested in what it’s going to look like, so they’ll probably at least rent it for a couple of events or parties that they may have just to get in there and kind of see the new renovations.”