- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SPENCER, Ind. (AP) - It was a big gift the Indiana National Guard gave Owen County back in 2008: a 9,270-square-foot, 70-year-old building with 12-inch-thick walls and a basement once used to store military tanks and howitzers.

The heating and cooling system was shot and the roof leaked. But the downtown location was optimal, and the price tag, $0, could not be beat. The structure was built in 1938 for $55,000.

The old National Guard Armory, closed in 2007, once was a hub for the military organization. After that, it was utilized as an emergency shelter for flood victims whenever the White River flooded.

Seven years later, everything has changed at the armory. The county first invested $54,220 in 2009 to replace the roof, hoping to keep the building from deteriorating further while county officials decided what to do with the structure on the corner of South Washington and East Jefferson streets.

First, the county commissioners authorized remodeling the basement to house county offices. So far, a sheriff’s detective, the county veteran affairs officer, the county’s maintenance supervisor and Coroner Stan Frank have taken up residence downstairs during the day.

“I’ve been down here about a year now, in a nice little office,” Frank told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1nLGGkZ ). “No bodies. Just the office.”

But there are lots of bodies on the armory’s main level, alive and well and moving, where Cathleen McPhee recently has relocated her gymnastics studio. Cathleen’s Gymnastics has been in business for 14 years, in various locations around Spencer: Republican Party headquarters, the space above Ranard’s Cleaners and, for the past 12 years, at an old cord factory several miles out of town on Ind. 43.

Her latest venue is the most unusual, and possibly the best, for balance beams, uneven parallel bars and rows and rows of mats.

“This space is perfect for us, and we have had so much support and help from the county to get moved in here,” McPhee said. “Being centrally located like this, we can serve a lot more kids in our programs.”

Donnie Minnick, president of the Owen County commissioners, said officials didn’t know what to do with the building and were intrigued and pleased with McPhee’s proposition. The county invested about $33,000 for a new heating system, air conditioning, an access ramp for people using wheelchairs and other improvements.

“We had been pondering what to do with that building; it’s a sturdy structure, and this will bring kids into town,” Minnick said. “And the armory’s got that gymnasium floor. It seemed like a perfect match.”

Cathleen’s Gymnastics has entered into five-year lease agreement with the commissioners, and the county will start making money back on its investment after two years, Minnick said. “We kind of worked out the details, then got the council to appropriate the money, and it was done.”

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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