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Ambridge model railroad club members hope improved look brings added attention

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Greg Nicoletti of Nicoletti Construction based in Ambridge works on the facade of the building that houses the Ohio Valley Lines Model Railroad Club on Merchant Street in Ambridge Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. The club received a community development grant to pay for most of the work.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Greg Nicoletti of Nicoletti Construction based in Ambridge works on the facade of the building that houses the Ohio Valley Lines Model Railroad Club on Merchant Street in Ambridge on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. The club received a community development grant to pay for most of the work.

Though the Ohio Valley Lines Model Railroad Club has been located in the same Merchant Street, Ambridge, building for more than a decade, not many people realized it was there.

Members are hoping a new facade will change that.

“We've had this problem, even though we've been here for 11 years. People right around the corner didn't know we existed,” member Frank Kocher of Brookline said.

When the facade is completed in September, Kocher said it'll be much harder to miss. “Ohio Valley Lines” will be spelled out in bold letters on the front of the building, which is designed to look like an old train station — complete with freight doors and a bay window playing host to a mannequin “ticket-taker.”

The design was inspired by one of the club's model train stations that they had in storage.

The renovations were a long time in the making, Kocher said. When they first purchased the Merchant Street building, their real estate agent mentioned the option to pursue a federal grant through the Community Development Program of Beaver County. They were given an artist's rendering of what the building could look like, and that picture had been hanging on a wall inside since.

When the club paid off its mortgage about two years ago, members believed they were ready to apply for the grant, and about a year and a half later, they were awarded $39,000 to help pay for the $62,000 project.

“We would've never been able to get this off the ground ourselves,” Kocher said.

Work on the facade, being completed by Nicoletti Construction of Ambridge, began in July.

The project originally was scheduled to be completed in late-August, but the company hit a two-week setback when workers opened up the front wall to reveal two brick piers that design plans did not accommodate for.

When it was determined the piers were not load-bearing, they were removed.

Kocher said he hopes there aren't any more setbacks because there is a lot of work to do inside to get ready for the annual holiday show — the only time of year the club allows visitors inside to view their model train display, library and museum.

The event runs every weekend from noon to 5 p.m. from Nov. 30 through Jan. 5.

After the plastic that stretches across the front of the display to protect it from dirt is removed, members will be working on a few new display areas. A downtown Pittsburgh section was added to the main HO-scale railroad on the first floor, and a new N-scale model railway is being constructed in the basement. That railway is an 8- to-10-year project, Kocher said.

Club members are excited about debuting the new facade, as well as the additions inside.

“It's been a slow process, but it's definitely worth waiting for,” Kocher said.

Member Bob Evans of the North Side agreed.

“It's going to be great,” said Evans, who is always stationed at the front door during open house days.

“It's always nice to greet people and make them feel welcome.”

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or kserafini@tribweb.com.

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