PORTLAND — Maine’s National Guard armories are in dire need of attention. That’s why I’m so glad that voters will have the chance to weigh in on a very important bond proposal when they go to the polls Nov. 5.

Question 1 on the ballot is a $14 million bond proposal that would provide resources to armories in the state so Maine’s National Guard members can have adequate training facilities. We rely on these service members to protect us in times of natural disaster and when our military needs to go abroad. We need to make sure that they have what they need to be ready for these circumstances.

Important repair, capital improvement and energy-efficiency projects could move forward with the approval of this bond. This kind of work has been put off because of tight budgets. Poor energy efficiency in these buildings means that heating and utility costs eat up so much of the armories’ already limited resources.

The $14 million bond allocates $11 million for maintenance, repair and modernization funds. That portion of the bond could bring in as much as $13 million in federal matching funds. It would pay for about 220 projects in 17 locations. These are projects that will inject money into our economy and put Mainers in the construction and related fields back to work.

The other $3 million would go toward the purchase of a training area. The Maine National Guard’s various units have different training needs. Some units travel to Massachusetts and Vermont, and others have to go other states. The aim is to buy a large enough parcel of land so that all of the units can meet their training needs in the state. Training closer to home will save valuable time that is now used for travel.

As a member of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, I was able to get a close-up look at the sort of conditions that our National Guard members train in. The tour we went on was a truly eye-opening experience.

We saw an uninsulated ceiling that makes heating dollars go right through the roof. One section of the armory – right by the showers – is closed off because of lead contamination resulting from its former role as the shooting range. Water damage and mold are problems throughout the facility.

This is the condition of the armory in Gardiner, one of 23 such facilities in the state. Many were built in the 1950s and still have the original heating systems. In Houlton, where the armory is equipped with a 1957 steam boiler, the annual heating cost last year was $60,000 – three times what it would have cost had it had a newer, more efficient system.

Leaky heating systems, asbestos floor tiles, water damage and broken windows are all too common. Meanwhile, we need to see more fire alarms, fire-suppression systems and electrical upgrades.

This is not a sustainable situation.

In recent years, the Maine National Guard has sold five armories so it could pay for critical projects like roof repairs. We can’t make them continue down this path. We must not hurt their training ability and preparedness.

In addition to their training function, armories play an important role in times of state emergencies. The National Guard has a dual mission, serving both the state and federal government.

The presence of armories in strategic locations around the state is important for readiness, said Peter Rogers, communications director for the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management. He noted that during ice storms, armories have served as warming shelters and distribution centers for food and water.

Members of the Maine National Guard come from our communities. Our friends, neighbors and family members are the ones who are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, sandbagging rivers at risk of flooding, refueling aircraft and serving residents in emergency shelters. They’re the ones who are having to make do with dilapidated and outdated facilities.

We need to do right by them. They need and deserve our support.

— Special to the Press Herald

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