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Will Orange close its armory?

Recorder/Mike Phillps
The Orange armory on East Street is under consideration for closure.

Recorder/Mike Phillps The Orange armory on East Street is under consideration for closure.

ORANGE — While the armory houses vital community services, the old building may be near the end of its useful life.

On Wednesday, Town Administrator Diana Schindler told selectmen the armory is literally crumbling. Chunks of ceiling plaster fall onto the plates of seniors eating their noon-time meals. In addition, the heating system malfunctions and the basement floods.

Schindler recommended decommissioning the armory before heating season starts next fall.

“We could continue to pay for keeping the armory open … but that would be throwing good money after bad,” Schindler said. It currently costs about $40,000 to heat and run the building each year, with additional funds required for repairs.

“Our seniors deserve a place that is warm and safe and clean,” Schindler said, recommending senior services be moved to the Orange Innovation Center, a smaller but sturdier building equally close to town.

Orange will no longer be a Meals on Wheels site, she said, reducing space requirements for that program. Though the program will be based elsewhere, Orange seniors will continue to receive meals at home.

Schindler said the Innovation Center can easily house remaining senior services including the expanded Outreach Program she recommends for next year.

But Finance Committee Chairwoman Linda Smith expressed doubt the Innovation Center will accommodate services for the town’s rapidly aging population. “You can’t just give them a little room and figure everyone will fit in there.”

Schindler said there are many grant opportunities to further develop senior programs and related capital projects. “The USDA is dying to give us some money,” as Orange has demonstrated needs with large numbers of low income seniors.

“I hope you do a study and have public meetings (to solicit resident input),” Smith urged selectmen.

Voting also takes place at the armory. Smith said there are complications to moving polls to the schools.

She added the armory houses youth roller-skating programs not easily accommodated in other buildings. According to Smith, there used to be more teen activities such as dances and Grange Hall programs. Now, Orange youth rely on roller-skating as a way to socialize.

“To just close the building and say that’s too bad … some of those kids will be on the street,” Smith argued.

Selectmen’s Chairwoman Kathy Reinig acknowledged the town needs to develop more programs for teens. “But that’s a different issue,” she said in an interview after the meeting,

David Ames agreed Schindler’s recommendation warranted further study. Ames admitted he is “a little nervous” about the idea of closing the Armory this fall. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t decommission it, but we need opportunities for the public to step forward” and provide input.

He asked for more information from the building inspector and an engineer about the condition of the building.

Schindler said she will gather this documentation.

Later in the meeting, selectmen established a committee to assess town buildings and prepare a capital plan. Maintenance costs and possible uses of the Armory will be discussed more in that group.

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