CARIBOU – The Maine National Guard plans to move from its Bennett Drive home in Caribou next year, leaving the city wondering what to do with the property.
Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Tinkham II, the state’s adjutant general, and other guard officials met Tuesday night with the City Council and the Parks and Recreation Board to discuss the future of the armory property.
The city has expressed an interest in acquiring the property.
The situation is unique since the land on which the building is located belongs to the city. At the same time, attached to the state-owned structure is a building housing the city’s recreation department.
Although moving from the armory, built in the late 1950s, the National Guard is staying in Caribou. The service branch plans to move into a larger building on outer York Street next year, according to Tinkham.
The building was donated to the Guard by Solman Distributors, which has moved to Bangor. According to Donovan G. Lajoie, facilities director for the guard, the building is larger and in much better shape than the Bennett Drive property.
Local officials decided Tuesday to have the city’s Planning Board hold hearings on proposed uses for the building. At the same time, the city’s new community development director, Mary Walton, will research grants available to make necessary repairs to the 50-year-old structure.
During the evening session, the general assured local officials that the guard wanted to continue its good relationship with the city.
“The city of Caribou has been a great friend of the National Guard for as far back as I can remember,” said Tinkham, who spent some of his childhood in Fort Fairfield. “We don’t want anything to jeopardize that.”
The guard plans to have a bill submitted to the new Maine Legislature that will allow the property to be sold. Such permission is routine, Tinkham said.
Much of the discussion centered on what condition the guard would sell the building and for what price.
The guard property has been appraised at $509,000, according to Lajoie. Included in that appraisal was the administration part of the property and a gymnasium.
Another complication involves the issue of the National Guard having a lease to use the land for another 50 years, according to Lt. Col. Peter Golding the guard’s judge advocate, or attorney, in Maine.
“It does restrict” future owners, said Golding. The general added that the guard would need the city’s cooperation to sell to a third party. “We’re joined at the hip,” Tinkham said.
The city’s recreation director, Kathy Mazzachelli, asked whether the guard would be willing to negotiate the cost of any repairs to the guard building before selling.
“We’ll be willing to talk about anything,” said Tinkham, later adding that any proposal would require passing the “straight-face test” before the Legislature.
The general also said that the guard could consider leasing the building on a long-term basis.
“Certainly we’ll accommodate anything that’s reasonable,” the general said.