2016-09-01 / Front Page

Committee to consider armory uses

By TORY JONES BONENFANT

Windsor residents stand in the vacant Vermont National Guard armory during a tour of the facility on Aug. 17. The town selectboard is creating a subcommittee to explore options for the facility. — EAGLE FILEWindsor residents stand in the vacant Vermont National Guard armory during a tour of the facility on Aug. 17. The town selectboard is creating a subcommittee to explore options for the facility. — EAGLE FILEWINDSOR — The Windsor Selectboard will form a committee with citizen input to continue looking at options for the former National Guard Armory building, including use as recreational space, commercial use, and a suggestion to convert it to housing for homeless veterans.

The selectboard agreed at a regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 30 to form a sub-committee that will include two selectboard members, representation from the Recreation Department and the school district, and “some citizens at large.” That committee will be tasked with reviewing suggestions on best ways to use the building while adhering to stipulations in the original deed, according to Town Manager Tom Marsh.

“The risk would be investing in the building and having one of the heirs come forward,” and challenge that use, Marsh said. The heirs could also compel the town to return it to recreational use, he said.

Marsh said he shared with the selectboard on Tuesday a legal opinion from the town’s attorney on the armory’s potential uses, and what each would require from town officials.

If the town wants to sell it, use it for a town garage or any other non-recreational use, all the heirs of the original grantors must be notified first, according to language in deeds created more than 70 years ago.

Possibilities the sub-committee will consider include community classes, dances and activities, along with the option of commercial use.

Housing homeless veterans in need also came up at the Tuesday meeting.

Bernie Shaban, a Windsor citizen in his 80s, is a former prison guard and an “avid supporter” of veterans’ needs, Marsh said. In an “impassioned plea,” Shaban suggested the selectboard could convert the space into a shelter for homeless veterans, according to Marsh.

Marsh said that there is not a specific need at this time in Windsor for housing for homeless veterans, that he knows of, but that Windsor may have had more veterans per capita than any other town in the state.

“Windsor is known as a prison town, and as a veterans town. It has a proud history of military service,” Marsh said.

Shaban said he feels there would be broad support and funding available, should the town convert the building into a residence for disadvantaged veterans.

The board and Marsh suggested that Shaban bring more detailed information on need and funding sources to the board at a later date.

The selectboard will consider that veteran housing option among the many other possibilities when it begins looking into how to use the space, Marsh said.

In 1928, two owner families of the land, the Kennedys and the Evarts, granted the plot of land where the armory now stands to the town. In approximately 1944, 14 identical written deeds were issued to all the family members of the original “grantor” families. The deed stipulated the land be used only for recreational purposes or as an armory, Marsh said. The land would revert back to the grantor families and their heirs if ever it was not used for either of those purposes.

However, if the town of Windsor takes control of the building and land for recreational purposes, no action would be required to locate all heirs of the original donor families, he said.  

Vice Chairman Jeff White said on Tuesday that priority should be given to clearing the title, which would include identifying heirs and soliciting their approval for alternative uses of the land. Either that, or the board should try to determine now if all heirs would not agree to any alternate use, White said, according to the meeting minutes.

Selectboard member Clayton Paronto said he was not in favor of the town taking ownership of the building, and suggested the town had a long history of overbuilding.

Chair Rich Thomas, however, said he thought there would be community value in the town taking control of the building and using it for recreational purposes, all according to the minutes.

Selectboard member Michael McNaughton was also present at Tuesday’s meeting, with board member Heather Prebish absent.

The National Guard has offered to donate the 15,000-square-foot facility to the town, which now must decide whether or not to accept, and if so, what sort of use the building will have.

Marsh said that he anticipates by the next selectboard meeting to have input from the board on the new subcommittee. He said he expects to present at that meeting what the finalized subcommittee will “look like.”

If the selectboard can come to an agreement by January 2017 as to how to proceed and whether to buy and improve the former armory, a bond question could be added to the March 17 ballot for the annual town meeting, Marsh said.  

The next regular Windsor Selectboard meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13 at the Windsor municipal office.


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