Armory deemed too expensive for Clinton to buy for youth center

CLINTON – The Chestnut Street Armory is a prominent structure, in service for more than a century, but the days of the armory are long gone. The probation office moved to a new Green Street location in 2019.

The state sold it to state agencies, but none had any use for it.

It was offered to the city before being put up for auction, without a fixed price. The city then began to wonder if it had any use and the finances that would be involved. The process has slowed during the pandemic, with the state allowing an extension.

At its June 29 meeting, the Select Board decided that the likely cost of making it usable again for the city was too high.

The estimated price of $11.5 million represented funds that could be put to better use elsewhere, the council decided after reviewing LLB Architects’ report on options.

After:City building plans eyed by Clinton selectors for buy or sell

Selectmen, for example, considered the potential of the site for the activities of a youth centre. But some practical concerns soon emerged, such as limited parking, which led the state to use curbside parking in the area, an issue that was often discussed.

A cursory examination revealed many expenses, not the least of which was the fear that parts of the facade, now covered, could fall off and create a liability.

An old aerial photo of the Armory Building, at the junction of Mechanic and Chestnut Streets, Clinton.  The buildings in the background are Green Street.

But the historic structure could cost significantly more to repair than building new facilities to meet the city’s needs, members said.

The report notes issues ranging from deterioration of steel doors and windows to various system issues. It has no fire sprinkler system, the report notes.

He listed a replacement cost of $2.5 million and an appraised value of $1.6 million.

He said further investigation was needed for some items such as structural walls and areas he said could be subject to settlement based on sloping floors. Areas of visible water damage require further investigation and existing wooden elements that are damaged should be replaced. The brick pillars on the north wall are tilting, noting a concern, and “the masonry pillars will continue to deteriorate, leading to inevitable roof collapse.”

The report also noted a crack in the masonry of the top floor on the ground floor.

Coach Mary Rose Dickhaut said she was not in favor of “investing millions of dollars in something that is a money pit.

“There’s nothing that doesn’t need to be addressed,” she said, adding that for a tenth of the repairs to the armory, “we could do something beautiful for the young people.”

Along with the repair estimate, Chairman Matt Kobus suggested the city “invest the money where it will get a better return.”

Coach Ed Devault said if the city could ask St. John’s Gymnasium to provide parking, maybe the armory would make sense.

“I’d be interested in crunching the numbers,” Devault said, but “if the arsenal is too expensive, to build something new for a fraction of the cost, that would make sense.”

“At the moment, I’m not sure the investment is worth it,” coach Julie Perusse said.

“I love the building, but it’s too much,” coach Sean Kerrigan said. He suggested considering adding a youth center to the college. If this project goes ahead, there would be state reimbursements, but there would be no public funds for any additions beyond the approved school portion.

But he noted there could be economies of scale.

Dickhaut said something at the school would be of concern if it could not be used by the city at all times due to the school’s location.

“It’s a nice building, but it’s falling apart,” Kerrigan said (speaking of the armory), as the council debated options, including buying it to resell.

“In my opinion, walk away. I don’t see any potential,” Dickhaut said, about to “drop any future consideration of the Clinton Armory.”

The Clinton Armory was the home of Company K, Ninth Infantry Regiment MNG. It was opened in December 1914 by Governor David I. Walsh, a Clinton resident who also later served as a U.S. Senator.

The closed armory in Clinton, February 2020.

The St. John’s alternative?

In subsequent discussions, members supported considering St. John’s Gymnasium as an option if the city could acquire it.

Something will happen at the gym “sooner or later. There are certain things that are talked about, ”said Dickhaut.

St. John’s Gym means a lot to the people of Clinton,” said Dickhaut, adding, “the people of Clinton built it.

She said she would like the board to focus on that. She noted that the city has seen a lot of townspeople-funded church properties sold and no money in Clinton, with references to several former church properties.

The council discussed the options with the church as well as with the finance committee to see if the city’s financial managers would be in favor of exploring this option.

“I think we should be a little more proactive,” Devault said.

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