Bennington could acquire Guard armory

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BENNINGTON — The Select Board took a first look this week at an agreement that would swap 22.9 acres of town land off Bowen Road for the Bennington Armory building on .8 acres off Franklin Lane.

Town Manager Stuart Hurd, who was credited by board members with sticking with the long negotiations that led to the proposed exchange, which began in 2012, presented a proposed contract during Monday's board meeting.

The proposal calls for a straight swap of the two properties, pending due diligence, including environmental assessments, by both parties concerning the sites they would acquire.

Essentially, the Vermont National Guard would construct a new Readiness Center on the Bowen Road parcel to replace its current cramped armory site, and the town would acquire the state-owned armory, which is strategically located near the town offices on South Street and close to the Putnam Block project area.

According to the agreement, the deal is contingent upon federal funding for the Readiness Center, and states that the project is currently in a Future Years Development Plan in the federal budget for fiscal year 2022.

Existing operations at the armory would continue until the new Readiness Center is complete — estimated to take two to four years from the closing date on the exchange. Until the center opens, the state would be able to continue at the armory under a leaseback agreement with the town.

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Toured the armory

Chairman Donald Campbell and board member Jim Carroll said they had toured the armory over the summer and were impressed with the facility.

"They have done some incredible work in there; it just sparkles," Carroll said.

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He said the building might accommodate a facility for the homeless or a similar use, having a commercial size kitchen and cafeteria, along with ample space throughout.

The armory, which has undergone extensive renovations, exterior work and remediation of lead dust from a former basement area shooting range, board members said.

In addition, an elevator was added and there is maple flooring, a stage and a basketball court.

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"It is a pretty exciting opportunity," Campbell said, "with tremendous upside for the town."

He noted the armory's closeness to the town offices, where space is at a premium, and to the Putnam Block, where the first phase of a $54 million downtown redevelopment project is underway.

The brick structure at 100 Franklin Lane was constructed in 1924. It has been eyed in the past for a municipal building or possibly for town meeting space or a youth center.

A tentative proposal was framed about eight years ago for exchanging the building for a former Jard Co. factory parcel on Bowen Road, which the town owns.

The National Guard had said it was looking for a parcel in Bennington County to construct a new Readiness Center, but federal funding for design and construction — then estimated at $10 million — was not available as soon as expected.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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