National Guard readies Waterbury Armory for sale

At a special meeting in August, the Vermont Board of Armory Commissioners decided it was time to address the fate of the Waterbury Armory. 

The Vermont National Guard armory in Waterbury sits on 2.5 acres between Interstate 89 and Stowe Street. Brookside Primary School is visible in the top right. Photo by Gordon Miller

By Will Thorn

At a special meeting in August, the Vermont Board of Armory Commissioners decided it was time to address the fate of the Waterbury Armory. 

The National Guard’s Bravo Battery of the 1-101 field artillery battalion, the most recent unit that used the facility, departed for Massachusetts in December and the building has had no mission-specific purpose since.

The board’s decision was unanimous: It’s time to sell. 

The armory hasn’t gone on the market yet, though. The Federal Emergency Management Agency occupied the Waterbury village building with a Disaster Recovery Center which closed on Oct. 14.

Now that FEMA has departed, the Vermont Military Department will begin to clean the building and get it ready for sale, said Col. Jacob Roy, construction and facilities management officer for the Vermont Army National Guard,   

Sitting on a 2.5-acre parcel with a storage outbuilding for equipment, the 16,000-square-foot Waterbury armory went into service in July 1957. The armory served as a readiness center for the National Guard’s field units. Readiness centers are “focal points for units to assemble for drill and training,” Roy said.  Its sale will be a transition for the property, opening the potential for a new chapter for the historic site.

This isn’t the kind of property that’s listed on, however. The sale of armories, which are owned by the state, is handled through the Military Department. It advertises available sites in public notices in newspapers and online news outlets. Interested parties can arrange a time to look at the buildings and submit bids, Roy said.

The Vermont Military Department sets a date for final proposals. Then it reviews the offers and usually accepts the highest bidder to start negotiations, Roy said. The sale will include the armory building, an outbuilding and surrounding land, appraised at $890,000, according to the minutes of the August meeting. The board also noted how it would use revenue from the sale: “The Vermont Military Department intends to utilize proceeds from the sale for future land purchases or construction projects,” the minutes state. 

Roy highlighted one wrinkle that could affect the sale: The state could retake the armory to use for another state agency. For example, state and local officials said the site was briefly considered earlier this year in discussions of where the state might open a temporary juvenile detention center. That idea did not gain traction, however. State Rep. Theresa Wood, D-Waterbury, who chairs the House Committee on Human Services, recently told Waterbury Roundabout that Waterbury is not being considered for the juvenile facility at this time, although a state-owned property in Middlesex is an option under review.   

Roy said he believes further state use of the Waterbury Armory is unlikely. “At this point in time, there’s no state agency that we’re aware of that is interested in the property,” he said. “It is going to go out for public sale.”

Waterbury Municipal Manager Tom Leitz said the town was not given the first opportunity to acquire the armory, but Waterbury officials didn’t pursue the purchase with the Military Department, either.

 “I don’t believe we have any interest in the property,” said Leitz, citing “challenges” related to the building’s age.

Roy said the Military Department has similar reasons to offload the armory. “These facilities have really kind of lived beyond what their life cycle should have been,” he said. 

When these 70-plus-year-old structures were built, many stood in sparsely populated areas and had ample room and amenities for the guard to conduct its operations, Roy said. Those include domestic and emergency response, preparation and mobilization for a federal response, or overseas deployment, Roy explained.  

Now, Roy said, these older facilities are too small to handle the National Guard’s mission needs, which today require armory sizes of about 30,000 square feet to house the equipment and guard members for service.

U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Seth Wilkinson and Soldiers of Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), Vermont Army National Guard, stand in formation a the transfer ceremony held at the Waterbury Armory on Dec. 3, 2022. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Barbara Pendl

The Waterbury armory and similar military structures also often have historic covenants, which prevent some types of development and upgrades. On top of all that, the older facilities have outdated technology.

Old armories aren’t very energy efficient either, Roy said. Updating to modern energy standards would “require a lot of work, more than what we really can put into them without ruining or jeopardizing the historic nature of the buildings,” Roy said.

“All of that, combined, really led us down the road to realize that we needed to look at collapsing in and folding into new, more modern infrastructure” in another location, Roy added.

Leitz said that a couple of developers have called the town to ask about the property, not realizing it doesn’t belong to Waterbury. Those potential buyers expressed interest in building multi-family rental housing on the site – something Leitz said he would like to see. 

“There’s a real need,” he said. “Not just in town, but in the region.”

Roy said he has heard a few rumbles of interest in the armory but no plans to build housing there, and he was skeptical about the possibility. Other repurposed armories have been converted to commercial space, including a Rutland facility that housed a T-shirt manufacturer, he said. Enosburg has converted its old armory for some town offices. 

“It would probably take a fair amount of effort to turn them into housing,” Roy said. Any buyer would have to undergo town zoning and development review and follow state regulations for a repurposed use of the site, he added. 

The Military Department anticipates the site will attract plenty of interest, he said. “There’s going to be some good competition, and we’ll get a good price from the facility.”

Town eyes another state site for housing

The view from Park Row across the vacant lot where Stanley and Wasson Halls stood until 2021 at the State Office Complex in Waterbury. File photo by Lisa Scagliotti

While the armory awaits its fate, town officials have their sights set on another state property as a potential location for multi-family housing: the now-vacant lot where the former Stanley and Wasson Halls were located at the edge of the State Office Complex beside Park Row and Randall Street.

“We have laser-focus on getting some more housing built [there],” Leitz said.

For state land, the process to sell to the town takes time, Leitz said. Earlier this year, the Vermont General Assembly passed a capital budget that included a “right of first refusal,” allowing Waterbury first dibs to acquire the 2.5-acre parcel. In September, the town select board approved a statement of its formal interest in purchasing that property. The legislation gives the town and state until June 1 to work out a purchase agreement. Waterbury officials will soon start talking about the bid price, Leitz said. He gave no specific timeline but said the town wants to move along “fairly quickly.”

The possible addition of housing can come none too soon, he added. “The first step is we’ve got to make sure we own it first.”

Will Thorn reported this story on assignment from The Waterbury Roundabout. The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.

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