Guard Makes Pitch for More Armories...for `Reasons'...


Above, the armory in Bridgewater, one of a handful still operated by the state.

Citing "abysmal" building conditions, the leader of the Massachusetts National Guard, back on Tuesday, March 19, said he is eyeing significant capital investments for the state's remaining armories, where members train and handle logistical tasks.

Some of the aging facilities, which are also called readiness centers, are in poor condition and pose health hazards to soldiers, said Maj. Gen. Gary Keefe, adjutant general of the state's National Guard. Why now?

Keefe said Tuesday he's preparing to discuss a "generational investment" with the National Guard Legislative Caucus. However, aides to caucus co-chairs Sen. John Velis and Rep. Bruce Ayers were not aware of the meeting date when asked Wednesday.

"We're looking for a five- to 10-year bonding plan, where we can actually look to build new armories in areas where we have the property," Keefe said during a fiscal 2025 budget hearing. "We're going to look to save those armories that have good bones. And then we're going to look to excess or demolish armories that just don't make any sense anymore."

Keefe did not specify how much the plan may cost. When the Observer repeatedly contacted his public affairs officer to ask whether there was any connection between his request and the Healey Administration’s quest to find ways to house more migrants, there was no response.

In proposing and passing the state’s shelter law back in the 1980s, then Governor Michael S. Dukakis specifically referenced using armories to house those in need. At that time, hotels were not even imagined as a solution but have since become a first choice, albeit a controversial one, for state agencies.

Keefe’s pending request comes as bonding proposals from the Healey administration pile up in the Legislature, including the governor's $4.1 billion affordable housing bond bill and the economic development bill that would reauthorize the life sciences initiative and launch a climate tech initiative. Administration and Finance Secretary Matt Gorzkowicz has said Massachusetts has an annual bond cap of about $3.3 billion, which grows by about $125 million each year.

Keefe said the state had about 90 armories from 1990 to 2006, but now there's only about 30.

The shrinking portfolio reflects the size of the National Guard. The state's Army Guard had 15,000 soldiers in the early 1990s, compared to about 5,700 or 5,800 today, Keefe said.

Massachusetts has the oldest armories in the country, Keefe said. The last fully state-funded armory was built in 1974, he said.

"And they're abysmal. Quite honest with you, if you look at them, and you go through them -- mold, lead dust, asbestos," Keefe said. "Westfield, we had a ceiling collapse. We're at the point now where the federal government is no longer paying to build us new military construction for armories."

He added, "I can't have pregnant soldiers work in my armories because of lead dust."

Keefe lamented that armories used to serve as community gathering spaces, including for fundraisers, proms and basketball leagues.

"We can't do that anymore because of the condition of these armories," Keefe said. "It's hurting us all the way around."

--SHNS/Franklin Observer

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