SHARON – A $3 million state grant is going to mean more than just a cosmetic makeover for the former Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant in Sharon.
Last week the state Department of Community and Economic Development awarded the grant to aid in developing the site, said state Rep. Mark Longietti of Hermitage, D-7th District.
Dormant sections of the factory and office are owned by Sharon-based Winner Development LLC. The company has given a master lease to Valley Shenango Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit company with its own board of directors.
In turn, the nonprofit plans to lease the property to other businesses, said Jack Campbell, vice president and secretary of Winner Development.
“Our long-range goal is to tidy up the place and make it much more attractive,’’ Campbell said. “We want to make this attractive to the public.’’
Originally expecting to land a $7 million grant, work must be prioritized to best to use the slimmer $3 million, Campbell added.
“This is a big undertaking,’’ he said. “So much of the work that needs done is manpower-intensive.’’
Work underway includes removing the paneled glass in the northern section of the plant fronting Sharpsville Avenue.
“It’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put corrugated siding over that,’’ he said.
Just because the property was once an industrial site doesn’t absolve its development from meeting modern building codes.
“To give you an idea how expensive it is, it’s costing us $200 for a door handle to meet the building code,’’ Campbell said.
Lots of work has already been done in the 200,000-square-foot office building. A couple of artisans have already set up shop there and more are knocking at the door with interest, he added.
Halting moisture leaking from bricks and walls is a top priority. Mold must be scraped off concrete floors along with smoothing and leveling out rough sections.
Once housing torpedo production in World War II, that section of the plant has a 3-foot-thick, reinforced-concrete roof. The fear at the time was to protect production if the plant ever came under enemy aerial bombardment.
“They sure don’t make buildings like that anymore,’’ Campbell said.
The roof might have kept bombs out, but repairs are needed now to keep water from leaking in.
In addition to housing businesses, the possible uses under consideration include creating housing space and establishing an aquaponic greenhouse, he added.
The 50-plus-acre site was used for manufacturing since the early 1900s. The sprawling plant and office complex that once stretched a mile along Sharpsville Avenue is just a few blocks from Sharon’s downtown.
Best known for transformer production by Westinghouse, during World War II, the company was contracted by the Navy to produce a silent torpedo with an electric motor for the war effort. The torpedoes, called Mk 18, were developed and produced in Sharon and tested at Pymatuning Lake.
Once the war was over, Westinghouse cranked up the plant’s transformer production. At its peak production in the late-1940s and early 1950s, the transformer plant employed close to 10,000.
The company closed the plant in 1985; five years later it became a federal Superfund cleanup site. Westinghouse used coolant oil in its transformers that contained polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which have been linked to causing cancer in laboratory animals.
Westinghouse spent tens of millions of dollars to clean up environmental hazards in the ground and other locations, including the adjacent Shenango River. The site was removed from the Superfund list but still undergoes constant monitoring with underground wells.
(Michael Roknick writes for The (Sharon) Herald.)