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Saranac Lake armory to close

SARANAC LAKE – The New York Army National Guard is pulling its troops out of the state armory on Route 3.

The facility is being vacated and will close at the end of the month, Col. Richard Goldenberg, spokesman for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said in an interview Tuesday.

“The number of soldiers that are there are going to be consolidated by their parent organization, so there really is little merit to maintaining the cost and expense of that facility,” he said. “It’s just, long-term, not in the best interests of the Army National Guard to keep such a small detachment in that facility.”

The closure could open the door for the armory to become a possible home for Saranac Lake’s police and fire departments, something village officials have lobbied the state for in recent years.

However, state Sen. Betty Little says transferring the property to the local municipalities could be complicated and may require an amendment to the state constitution’s “forever wild” clause.

Relocation

Opened in 1962, the 20,000-square-foot facility sits on a 29-acre parcel of land. For years, it’s been home to a detachment from the Guard’s Company B, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, based in Morrisonville.

A couple dozen soldiers use the armory for one-weekend-a-month training activities, and it has a small, full-time staff of one or two people, Goldenberg said. He said the soldiers who have been based in Saranac Lake will report to Morrisonville after it closes. Their military gear and the facility’s vehicles, equipment, weapons and communications gear will also be relocated to Morrisonville.

Asked what it costs to maintain the armory, Goldenberg said it’s more than the expense of heating the building.

“It’s more the cost of the training for the soldiers who belong there, whose larger unit, the other platoons of their company, are up in Morrisonville,” he said. “They’re not getting the full benefit of training with the other guys they go to the field with on a regular basis. It’s the cost of leadership challenges for the company that has to divide up their time between Morrisonville in Saranac Lake. It makes more sense to consolidate than keep them divided.”

The state has closed more than two dozen armories in the last 15 years, and Saranac Lake’s armory has been under the threat of closure before, most recently in 2009.

Public use?

It will be up to the state Office of General Services to determine what happens next with the building, Goldenberg said. If there isn’t a public need for the building, it could go up for auction, he said. An OGS spokeswoman didn’t return phone and email messages Tuesday.

In recent years, village officials have lobbied the state to acquire the armory and convert it to a public safety building for their police and fire departments. The village firehouse on Broadway is outdated and too small to house all the department’s equipment and vehicles. The village has also said it wants to relocate the police department from its current site behind the former village offices at 3 Main St.

“The armory offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the village to combine the police and fire departments in one affordable public safety facility to serve the Saranac Lake region,” Mayor Clyde Rabideau wrote in a 2013 letter to Deputy Secretary of State Dede Scozzafava.

Town of Harrietstown Supervisor Mike Kilroy said Tuesday that the town would like to use some of the armory’s acreage to expand the neighboring town-owned Dewey Mountain Recreation Center. He said the town would be willing to partner with the village.

“We’d like to see them consolidate police, fire, rescue, everything up there. It would be perfect,” Kilroy said. “If we he had to go in on a 20-year-bond and split it with the village, we will work with the village. What we’re hoping for is a $1 (a year) lease for 99 years, that type of thing.”

Complications

Little said OGS could convey the property to a municipality for $1, but the possible legal uses would be limited.

“They have to be more than half on recreational opportunities and amenities,” Little said. “Police and fire department is not one of the enumerated uses under the statute to allow for such conveyance.”

There’s a bigger problem, however, Little said. About 30 percent of the armory property is within the village while the remaining 70 percent, including the building, is outside the village line in the town of Harrietstown. Since it’s state-owned land and most of it is not in the village, the property could be considered Forest Preserve land, which means it couldn’t be sold without an amendment to Article 14 of the state constitution, known as the “forever wild” clause.

“That’s a possibility,” Little said. “It’s still being researched. I just got off the phone with OGS and their legal counsel, and they’re really looking at it. Nobody wants to see this become another Camp Gabriels.”

Years after the state closed Camp Gabriels, a former minimum-security prison in the town of Brighton, it finally auctioned it to a group that planned to turn it into a summer camp for Orthodox Jewish boys from New York City. However, the group had difficulty getting title insurance, and their investors were leery of concerns environmentalists raised that the former prison is state land in a Forest Preserve county that can’t be sold without a constitutional amendment.

Earlier this year, Little proposed a constitutional amendment that would have exempted the former prison from Article 14. It passed the Senate but failed to get approval in the Assembly before lawmakers wrapped up their session for the year in June.

A constitutional amendment is a multi-year process that requires approval of two separately elected state legislatures, then approval of voters in a statewide referendum.

In the last few days, Little said she’s talked to town and village officials about the issues with the armory property.

“They’re putting their heads together and trying to see how they could do this,” she said. “Perhaps the surveys they have are not accurate for the village line, so they’re researching it, trying to go way back.

“There’s a lot of unknowns right now, but everybody wants to see if we can help make this happen.”