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Orange armory use at issue; meeting tonight

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 — Most people who have been in the armory agree it’s in disrepair: carpets need cleaning; mice run amok in the cupboards, and the walls and ceiling are crumbling. But whether these problems are superficial or are symptoms of deeper structural issues is the subject of ongoing debate in Town Hall.

Tonight, the Board of Selectmen will hold their meeting in the armory, so residents and officials can see for themselves as it once again discusses the fate of the building.

Town Administrator Diana Schindler’s recommendation to close the 100-year-old armory met with a backlash of protest at last week’s board meeting.

According to Schindler, moving the senior services from the armory to the Orange Innovation Center would save tens of thousands of dollars each year, and provide a safer, cleaner gathering space for elders.

The armory costs $40,000 to operate each year. Renting the innovation center will cost $20,000 a year, with an additional $5,000 amortized over several years to renovate the space to meet the needs of senior services.

Schindler said the rambling old armory is expensive to heat, and requires significant upgrades to make it more efficient.

She said silt from the ceiling falls down on the plates of seniors eating their noontime meals. And workers say the kitchen is infested with “four-legged creatures,” she said. In addition, potholes in the concrete of the entry way are a safety hazard and need work.

According to Schindler, these are just a few of the problems that must be resolved before the Franklin County Home Care will continue to serve meals to seniors there.

And bricks outside on the back of the facade are crumbling, she said.

Selectmen’s Chairwoman Kathy Reinig said she was opposed to closing the building when the recommendation was made by two previous, temporary town administrators, but she now backs Schindler’s plan.

“To continue to operate the armory, we are throwing good money after bad,” Reinig said.

But other residents and officials had a different take on the problems.

“So there are a few mice running around,” said Jean Chase. She contended the rodent and other problems cited by Schindler were relatively easy to resolve.

“This is an extremely strong building … it’s walls are 2 to 3 feet thick,” said Richard Sheridan. “The damage is superficial … it just takes pointing” to fix crumbling bricks outside the structure, he said.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Linda Smith said she attended a recent Armory Commission meeting which “is now very active” and is willing to do what is necessary to keep the building open, “Some of us are a little protective about town buildings … and don’t want to give up on these buildings.”

Cliff Fornier, the volunteer Armory Commission and Council on Aging director, said he is doing what he can to keep the building up, but needs more help from the town to maintain the building and grounds. “Part of the problem is a town problem” he said, apparently referring to the lack of custodial services at the site.

Smith argued shifting senior services to the OIC would amount to minimal savings when moving and renovation costs are factored in. She added the OIC parking lot is often full and may not accommodate an active senior meal site.

The Finance Committee voted to level fund the armory budget.

But Reinig said the armory’s operational budget will not be enough to make needed repairs. She said the cost of those repairs has not been determined, but a full assessment may require up to $10,000.

She said Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy has the skills to assess the building but may be seen by some residents as biased as he works for Schindler. Reinig said officials are exploring state grants in which the town can gain technical assistance from another professional with Kennedy’s skills from another town.

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