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Orange board votes to keep armory open

ORANGE — After listening to an outpouring of resident concerns over Town Administrator Diana Schindler’s recommendation to close the armory, selectmen voted in favor of keeping the 100-year-old building in operation.

About 50 people showed up to the Board of Selectmen’s meeting Wednesday night, most of them elders. Nearly all voiced support for continuing to fund the building, which houses voting, senior services and other town and community services.

While several people said the building is under-utilized, it was a hotbed of activity that night as residents and officials strained to hear and speak above the thumping of rollerskating youth and the trumpet blasts of practicing band members.

Many residents spoke passionately about the building, citing a host of nostalgic, historical and practical reasons for keeping it open.

“She’s a lovely lady, let us keep her going,” said Ronald Tellier, one of two new Armory Commission members.

Kim Marshall recalled with emotion how her uncle was deployed into military service from the armory years ago.

Other residents cited the lack of other appropriate spaces in town to house the many services that operate out of the building. May Deane said 27 different activities take place in the armory, “some weekly, some monthly, sometimes only on a yearly basis, but they do take place here.”

Fire Chief Dennis Annear, who was unable to attend the meeting, wrote a letter expressing his concerns about the vital role the building plays as a community shelter. Annear wrote that finding an alternative shelter with comparable space, parking and storage capacity will be extremely difficult. He added the uncertain fate of the building caused Orange to lose out on a grant opportunity, which might have brought in tens of thousands of dollars to enhance emergency management services.

Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer said finding an alternative polling place for the town’s two precincts will be difficult. Voting equipment is also stored in the armory.

But through the course of the evening, a hodgepodge of maintenance needs came to light.

Senior Outreach Worker Tracy Gaudette said she has concerns for the safety of seniors she meets within the building. She said silt falls from the ceiling onto desks and tables, and the building’s ambient temperature varies wildly.

When she has brought these and other issues up to Council on Aging Director and Armory Commission Director, Cliff Fournier, “the answer is always the same: there’s no money.”

Other problems cited include hot-water temperatures insufficient for sanitizing dishes, building code violations, uneven concrete in the entryway and rodents.

Many of these problems need to be resolved, Schindler pointed out, for the armory to continue as a noontime meals site for elders. Selectmen’s Chairwoman Kathy Reinig said that while some issues may be “small … and housekeeping,” other problems require money to resolve. The building needs attention if it is to remain open, she said.

Several residents suggested the town approach residents in the building trades to see if they can help. Other residents suggested fundraisers, and some stepped forward to volunteer for general cleaning.

Ultimately, the selectmen recommended the Finance Committee put more money into armory expenses to pay for necessary repairs and upgrades.

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