January 27, 2013

Legislators take 'eye-opening' tour of aging armory

The tour of the Gardiner readiness center raises questions about conditions at similar facilities statewide.

By PAUL KOENIG Kennebec Journal

GARDINER - Lt. Col. Dwaine Drummond led a committee of legislators through the 60-year-old National Army Guard armory, pointing out areas needing improvement.

click image to enlarge

Army National Guard Lt. Col. Dwaine Drummond leads members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on a tour of the Gardiner Armory on Jan. 23.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

There was the drill hall's uninsulated ceiling and the door to an indoor shooting range that remained shut because the Guard is unable to remove enough lead from the room.

The tour of the Gardiner facility Wednesday gave members of the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee a firsthand look at the condition of the aging armory and highlighted budget issues facing the Maine National Guard.

"That visual component really puts the stamp on the problem," said Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, after the tour. "It's really eye-opening."

"The state of our armories is deplorable, and we're doing a disservice to our National Guard," she added.

Drummond, director of director of facilities and engineering for the Maine Army National Guard, said the Gardiner armory's condition and age are similar to more than half of the state's 23 readiness centers, or armories, which prepare soldiers for deployment in the state and abroad.

Since the late 1980s, the state has closed 11 armories that were in similar disrepair, and Gardiner's armory could be the next to go, he said.

Drummond said the Gardiner armory probably will be demolished after the 113th Engineer Battalion moves to its future headquarters at the $23 million readiness center being built in Brunswick, although that hasn't been determined yet.

"My best guess is the facility will be torn down," he said. "If we were to keep it, we'd be at the same place we are now -- just throwing good money at a bad problem."

The facility being built at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station is set to be completed by the end of 2014.

Drummond said that improvements in energy efficiency are the most pressing need for many of the readiness centers. He said most of the operating and maintenance budget for facilities is spent on heat and utilities. Repairs usually are done only if they are absolutely necessary, such as fixing a broken boiler, he said.

Besides being unable to fund maintenance such as replacing old windows, most state-funded readiness centers can't afford custodial services. The full-time employees preparing weekend drills and other training at the facilities do all the general upkeep, such as mowing lawns, sweeping floors and cleaning toilets, Drummond said.

"I'm pretty sure there aren't any other state departments where the employees have to clean the toilets," he told the legislators. "To me that kind of sums it up. We do what we have to do."

Rep. David Johnson, R-Eddington, said he remembers having to clean everything during his time in the Marines.

Drummond said soldiers in training still are expected to perform cleaning duties as part of their service, but he doesn't think the ones working at the facilities should have to do so as part of their duties.

He reiterated that other state employees don't clean toilets.

"Maybe they should," said Rep. Jeffery Allen Gifford, R-Lincoln.

NEED FOR FEDERAL FUNDS

The National Guard originated from colonial militias and serves both the state and federal governments. Since it serves both, the Maine National Guard is jointly funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's National Guard Bureau and the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.

This year, the state's department had a total budget of $6.3 million and $3.3 million for the Army and Air National Guards, according to Deputy Commissioner Daniel Goodheart. The $6.3 million is down $3 million from five years ago, he said.

Total federal funding for the Maine National Guard averages around $326 million, according to Col. Donald Lagace, the National Guard Bureau's U.S. property and fiscal officer for Maine.

(Continued on page 2)

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