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North Adams Mulling Ideas for Armory

Tammy Daniels

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is hoping to begin discussions late in the summer on the best ways to reuse the former state Armory building as a community center.

The former National Guard headquarters on Ashland Street is in the midst of an estimated $5 million overhaul — but the going's been tough because the funding has been dribbling in through Community Development Block Grants.

"We can't get our arms around $5 million at a clip," said Michael Nuvallie of the city's Office of Community Development in his presentation to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday night. "We can get our arms around $300,000, $200,000, another $150,000 and we keep fixing that old car."

The city bought the structure from the state in 2007 with the vision of turning it into a community center. The building's gym has long been used for high school and youth sports and its location within walking distance of the downtown, senior housing and the college, and along public and school bus routes.

The project has gone through four phases of work already: the repair and replacement of the roofs; rebuilding of the front and side stairs; the design of an elevator; and the installation of the elevator to address handicapped accessibility.

The fifth and more substantial phase is being prepared for bidding in the next few weeks. It will include the installation of new gas heating systems, a three-phased electrical system, new handicapped restrooms on the first floor near the elevator and new concession stand for the gym. The total cost is estimated at $800,000.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring and continue through the summer. The expectation is the gym and new entrance area by the elevators will be completed for the youth basketball league to move back in.

The city is already applying for more block grant funds to continue the ongoing project, said Nuvallie. "The building is old, it needs to be updated in every shape and form."

While the vision has always been to transform the building into a community center, the youth basketball league is the only concrete use decided so far. The amount of work ("very grinding") necessary on the building has kept the focus on construction, not reuse.

There is extensive space in the basement and first and second floor that could be used for leasing purposes for agencies or groups or programs. The goal would be to make the building sustainable in the same way the skating rink is. It might also become the headquarters for the Parks & Recreation Commission and the Youth Commission.

Mike Nuvallie updated the commission and a handful of residents on Wednesday on the work done to date at the Armory.

"My initial vision is the fact that you'd want agencies in there that not only would obviously do what they do but could establish programming and be there for the building," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "Whoever is in there would have to sustain this kind of community model."

Residents, particularly the new Youth Commission, the mayor assured commission member Kate Merrigan and Councilor Michael Boland, would have input into what type of programming would be used.

"Over the next six months or as this new phase begins, that's when we can really start to have some community conversations of what this can become," he said.

A lot more work is required. The second-floor offices have extensive water damage, the basement has been neglected but offers a mess kitchen and lots of activity space and the parking area needs an estimated $400,000 in paving and landscaping.

"We want it to look quite spectaular when it's done," said the mayor.

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