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State struggles with major repair problems at inn

State struggles with major repair problems at inn

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:05 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

 By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter Retired builder Gene McAdoo of Union City — in the thick of things for years, but now on the sidelines — watches the wrangling over the future of Air Park Inn at Reelfoot Lake with great interest. It was his company, McAdoo Contractors, that built the state-owned facility in the early 1970s. The Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, which includes the Tennessee State Parks system, will decide whether to reopen the inn after a fire on Nov. 20 destroyed a six-room cluster. The inn is closed and will remain closed until a decision is made. Its doom may be sealed. The combination of the effects of the fire and pre-existing maintenance problems may convince state authorities that investing more tax dollars in it would not be cost effective. No records TDEC spokesman Meg Lockhart said records that far back (1960-’70s) are not available. Therefore, she could not say what it cost taxpayers to build the inn. However, McAdoo remembers. “It cost at least $750,000, maybe close to $1 million,” he said. “It took us eight months to build.” Built over a shallow wetland on the northwestern shore of Reelfoot Lake, the inn includes 20 rental units (individual and suites), an office complex, a meeting room and a restaurant. Wooden walkways extending into the lake from the inn allow guests to stroll under a canopy of tall cypress trees and view wildlife such as the American bald eagle. At the time the inn was built, an airstrip 3,500 feet long and 75 feet wide was built nearby. Cost of construction: $290,687. Still serviceable, the airstrip is capable of receiving single- and twin-engine aircraft. Platform problem TDEC assistant commissioner Mike Carlton, who is also director of state parks, said before the fire, an engineer’s report “pointed out some major obstacles.” Paramount among the problems is the concrete platform on which the walkways are built. “There are some metal plates out on the concrete deck. Everywhere there’s a metal plate, a soft place has developed in the concrete,” he said. “Because (the decking) is built over a wetland, they can’t just drop a bulldozer or TracHoe in, so they’ll have to do it by helicopter. “Construction is pretty expensive on that thing.” Carlton said engineers who analyzed the situation for TDEC reported there’s no way to change it “without sinking a lot of money into it.” Builder’s words McAdoo said the inn facility was “built in reverse” because it was built over a wetland. “First, we started at the bank and drove wood pilings out (into the lake),” he said. “We used timbers with the wood pilings. When we got to end of it, we started driving concrete pilings and taking up the wooden pilings. We built it from the first extremity back, built it in reverse. Instead of going from the bank out, we went out to the end and put in permanent concrete pilings and a concrete deck. “It was a core deck where water pipes and electric lines could go through. Then we built the motel and the units and the restaurant on it. “The concrete platform was eight and a half inches thick.” No surprise McAdoo said he’s not surprised the concrete has deteriorated. He said he knew it would sooner or later. Where the core was installed and covered with concrete, it performs OK. Where the core is exposed to “the elements,” meaning water, it deteriorates. A core such as that is supposed to be used in high-rise buildings. “Once it’s set, you pour concrete over it. That preserves it,” McAdoo said. “They poured concrete over it in the case of the visitors center and the restaurant and the motel units. But that exposed deck, they never put any concrete over that. Consequently, that’s what’s spoiling. “They were told by the people that manufactured that core that it should not be left in that state.” “If they’d poured concrete all over that whole deck, it wouldn’t be the problem they’re facing now. It may be that you could still pour concrete over it and reinforce it. I haven’t been down there to look at it. “But they knew better than that. I brought it up to the architect. He said, ‘We’re not going to issue any change order. You just build it the way it’s designed.’ So I didn’t have any choice. We had to build it according to the design.” A hideaway? Air Park Inn has long had a reputation of being “Hernando’s Hideaway,” a backwoods retreat, complete with airstrip and motel rooms, where Tennessee’s politicians came with friends and girlfriends. “They thought they needed a place to get away, a retreat. A lot of them would leave Nashville and fly their little planes and land at the Air Park runway. It was their idea, a little Hernando’s Hideaway,” McAdoo said. Carlton said he’s aware of the Inn’s negative image but asserts there is a positive side to the story. “It’s a great place for people to go and stay a few days and watch eagles in their winter habitat,” he said. “School groups go there to learn about nature and watch the eagles, too.” Pinion speaks Retired state Rep. Phillip Pinion of Union City, who for 20 years represented House District 77, said the term “Hernando’s Hideaway” has a ring of truth as applied to Air Park Inn. “It should never have been built,” Pinion said. “It was a waste of taxpayer money. I said several times it was money that would have been better spent on other areas of the lake.” Does he support closing the inn? “Whatever decision they make, I hope they’ll at least keep the runway open,” he said. “What with I-69 and Cates Landing coming, we’ll need that runway, along with money to maintain it.” Published in The Messenger 12.10.08

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