AUGUSTA, Maine — A proposal to transfer ownership of the armory in Fort Kent from the Maine Army National Guard to the University of Maine was endorsed by a legislative committee on Wednesday, but not before lawmakers attached a financial caveat.
The National Guard has offered to sell the armory, which has been vacant for roughly a year, to the University of Maine at Fort Kent for $1. The university hopes to use the building, which is located on the UMFK campus, for recreational activities and for storage of massive generators currently housed in an off-campus building.
The transfer will not be entirely free for the university, however.
The armory requires between $65,000 and $125,000 in repairs to its roof, walls and floors due to damages incurred as a result of the building sitting unheated for the winter. Broken asbestos tiles will also have to be properly removed and replaced.
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said the armory has been a part of the Fort Kent community for decades and was used by sports teams, for day care and for other community events.
Jackson and Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said the university plans to keep the building open for community use.
“If you continue to leave it unheated, it is going to get to the point where the building is not going to be worth anything,” said Sen. Jackson.
Maj. Gen. John Libby told members of the Legal and Veterans’ Affairs Committee that the Maine Army National Guard vacated the building in 2009, because it was no longer needed for training.
Members of the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans’ Affairs Committee raised concerns, however, about transferring the building to the university essentially for free.
Under current law, money from the sale of armories goes into a special fund to pay for maintenance and upkeep of other National Guard buildings. That money is then matched dollar-for-dollar by federal funds.
Committee members questioned Libby and the two Aroostook County lawmakers about whether the building should be put on the market to generate additional cash for the National Guard.
But Martin and Jackson predicted the building would likely attract little to no interest given its location on the UMFK campus, the damaged condition and the weak real estate market in Fort Kent. Martin pointed out that the building is within the flood plain, further limiting its redevelopment potential.
Ultimately, the committee voted to endorse the sale with one major condition: the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee must find $150,000 to transfer to the National Guard’s building fund.
The enabling legislation, LD 1759, now heads to the full Legislature, but will only move forward if the Appropriations Committee finds the additional money amid its work to fill a budget hole in excess of $300 million.