On Thursday, December 11, the City of Milford held an Open House at the Milford Armory, which the city purchased from the State of Delaware for one dollar in September 2014. The Armory served the Delaware National Guard for more than 75 years. The City was hoping to get ideas from the public after they toured the building as to what they should do with it, stating that the building was in excellent shape.
“I remember playing Parks and Recreation basketball here as a child,” said Mayor Bryan Shupe, standing at the edge of the basketball court that is still in excellent shape. “It has been amazing working with the State and Governor Jack Markell in getting this beautiful structure turned over to the City. We wanted the public to have an opportunity to see the building and personally hear from them about what they would like to see happen.”
Leutenant Colonel Mike Orlando, Director of Human Resources for the Delaware National Guard, said that the building housed many different divisions of the guard over the years. Units stationed at the Milford Armory were deployed during Iraqi Freedom and served in Kuwait. The Delaware National Guard moved from the building as the organization consolidated to fewer sites throughout the state of Delaware several years ago.
“Asbestos abatement has been completed throughout the building,” City Manager Richard Carmean said. “We are already using some of the out buildings for storage of some of our street maintenance trucks. We have talked about turning this into the new police station, but we know that the current square footage is not enough for the needs of the department. We have had an engineering company look at the main room where the basketball court is and it has been deemed structurally sound for a free-standing mezzanine that would provide additional square footage.”
The visitors during the open house had many ideas for the structure. Bob Larkin, Vince Snook and Jim Ernsberger all felt that the best use of the building would be for a new police station.
“There would be no need to raise taxes like there would be if we built a new police station,” Mr. Larkin said. “The cost for a new station has been estimated at around $10 million and I’ve heard that this could be renovated for as little as $5 million. That is a significant cost savings for the city. I also understand that there may be access behind the building so that police cars could enter and exit there rather than on Walnut Street.” Mr. Carmean said that there was an unimproved road behind the Armory that could be upgraded to allow additional access into and out of the property.
Another suggestion for the building made by Andrew Fulton was an airsoft facility, which is a sport similar to paintball using pellet guns. According to Mr. Fulton, there are many people in Milford who enjoy the sport but they must travel to Maryland to play. Andrew’s mother, Amanda, said that she would like to see the building used as a community or civic center, while his sister, Molly, said that she would like to see the building used to provide an outlet for teens in the town. Andy Fulton, Andrew’s father, said that although a police station is a good idea, it would be nice to see the building used to expand services in the city, such as an annex for the EMS personnel or a place for shelter during inclement weather.
Rosemary Connelly suggested that the building be used for the arts, while her husband, Bob, said the Second Street Players needed additional rehearsal space, so it would be beneficial for the building to be used as a performing arts center. It was also suggested that the City partner with the repurposing organization thatBayhealth Medical Center is using to get ideas for the old hospital building, which will be empty after the new hospital is completed in 2018.
“That is a really good suggestion,” said Mayor Shupe. “I do want to point out that once we make a decision on what to do with this building, there are other beautiful vacant buildings available in the town that can be repurposed for other uses. The old fire hall, the former Middle School and the hospital are all going to need new uses.” One visitor pointed out that if the City had to ask for a tax increase for a new police station, it could be difficult for taxpayers to agree as the school district was expected to go out for referendum after the first of the year to build a new high school.
There was some concerns expressed by neighbors regarding what the building would be used for as they did not want loud noises, such as blaring police sirens. Mr. Carmean explained that they would keep in mind the neighbors as they decided what to do with the building. If it was used for a police station, they would instruct officers not to use lights and sirens until they were away from the neighborhood.
“This would make a perfect police station,” said Councilman Skip Pikus. “In fact, the National Chief of Police recently said that an old armory is the perfect building for a police station. It needs to be retrofitted, such as adding handicapped access and offices, but I think we can do this without going out for referendum, which saves the taxpayers money.”