Milford Armory Becomes Community Center

by Terry Rogers

 

Lillian Harrison, Housing Director of Delaware Community Reinvestment Act Council (DCRAC), is excited to bring new life to the Milford Armory building. DCRAC has a lease agreement with the City of Milford to operate as a non-profit in the building, providing a variety of services to the community. Harrison has spent a significant amount of money refurbishing the building and continues to raise funds for the additional repairs that are necessary. They are kicking off the community use of the building with a Trunk or Treat event Friday, October 30 at 6 PM.

“The event will be in the parking lot and anyone is welcome to join,” Harrison said. “They may also come inside to see what has been done to the building. I think they will be pleased that the gym remains. At one point, we talked about turning the athletic area into office space, but I decided to let the community tell me what they wanted. I kept getting calls from groups who needed space to practice or play sports. We’ve had cheerleading, basketball, table tennis, you name it. I decided that the community had spoken, and this section will remain for their use.”

Milford Armory movie night

Downstairs, Harrison has completely refurbished the rooms that used to house offices for the National Guard. There are several small rooms with desks that can be rented by the hour, day, week or month. These are offices Harrison uses to meet with her own clients but is making them available to anyone who needs space for a short time.

“I find myself at Starbucks meeting with clients,” Harrison said. “I like Starbucks, but it just seems wrong to tie up a table to meet with clients and just buy a coffee. We created the office space so that anyone could have a professional-looking location to conduct business. If they choose a longer-term rental, they could even personalize the space with pictures and other personal items. There is WiFi throughout the building. We have a conference room that anyone can use as well as our lounge area that offers a comfortable place to just come and sit. We will be adding televisions in the lounge as well.”

Milford Armory networking space

One room in the lower area is a file room with cabinets donated by Discover Bank. Harrison explained that long-term renters could also rent one of the file drawers which will be secured when the renter is not there. She has created a clothes closet filled with professional clothing as one of the services she offers is job training. Often, those in her program do not have professional clothing for interviews or to start work and she created the closet to provide them with what they need. There is a chapel where Harrison holds church service on Sundays at 3 PM. There is also a game room with several video game consoles, darts and more. Harrison is hoping to purchase a pool table as well.

The building holds up to 300 people and Harrison explained that they will provide all COVID safety supplies necessary. They have a supply of thermometers, masks, hand sanitizers and more that can be provided to anyone who wants to rent the building. Everything is sanitized before and after each use as well. On Friday, October 30 at 6 PM, the organization is holding a “Trunk-or-Treat” event that is open to the public.

“Our next big renovation is the kitchen,” Harrison said. “We would like to offer meals, create a soup kitchen, so many things we would like to do in here, but we need to do some work first. I hope to partner with the Food Bank and maybe offer meals for those who rent the building and my clients. I have done all my own funding and every bit of the money donated has gone back into refurbishing this building. I absolutely love this building and even though it has been a lot of work, I wouldn’t change anything.”

Milford Armory shared office space

One of the programs Harrison manages is for Delaware Homeless Veterans who have been involved in the criminal justice system. She provides job training for the veterans. Her program covers Kent and Sussex County which is another reason she wanted a location in Milford. Another issue she faces, however, is making the building ADA compliant.

“Because this building was a federal building, it was exempt from ADA compliance,” Harrison said. “Now, we need to figure out a way to meet those requirements. I have been given estimates of between a quarter and a half million to add an elevator or lifts. Ramps are not an option due to the height of the building. The ramps would be longer than the property available.”

In addition to professional office space, Harrison explained that the building is also available for special occasions like birthday parties and weddings.

“We had a birthday party for an 11-year old recently,” Harrison said. “We had the party set up in the lounge and, upstairs in the gym, we put two big bounce houses. There was a DJ up there and the kids could play basketball. There was no need to worry about bad weather and the children were all inside one building. When we have an event, we provide the police with all information in case there is an issue. I would love to do a wedding here as well. People ask about parking, but we have an agreement with the church down the street to use their lot when we have an event. We have purchased a mini van that we can then use as a shuttle for those who may have difficulty walking.”

The Armory building is outside the Downtown Development District, but Harrison is looking for grants to help fund the refurbishments. She is asking for anyone who has grant-writing experience to reach out to her to help her find more funding. There is a GoFundMe page designed to raise $4,500 for signage on the building. Another way that Harrison is raising money is through a boutique she has opened in Penney Square in downtown Milford.

“I am in the process of putting the boutique together,” Harrison said. “I am hoping to not only use the boutique for additional funding but to offer employment options for those who need them.”

Anyone who is interested in renting the building, which is available by appointment for tours, can call Harrison at the Armory number (302-265-2851) or her cell phone (302-381-7053).

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