FORT KENT, Maine — A bill allowing the transfer of the vacant Fort Kent State Armory to the University of Maine at Fort Kent has been referred to the Committee on Legal and Veterans Affairs after a hearing Thursday in Augusta.

LD 1759: To transfer the ownership of the Fort Kent Armory from the Military Bureau to the University of Maine at Fort Kent, sponsored by Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, would allow the university to acquire the 17,700-square-foot building, a 4,000-square-foot storage shed and close to 2 acres adjacent to the Fort Kent campus for one dollar.

“This is a very good thing,” UMFK President Richard Cost said. “It is consistent with the concept of the ‘Pleasant Street campus.’”

UMFK now occupies buildings along a stretch of Pleasant Street, including former residences and office buildings. Going south from the campus along the street are the community high school and the elementary school.

The armory, built in 1957 between the university and high school, is the only building in that half-mile stretch not related to education.

“This will geographically fill in the one piece of the puzzle in the middle,” Cost said.

In its current state, the building — which had a new roof put on in 2007 and has undergone recent asbestos abatement — could be used for storage, recreation and athletic events and for classroom space.

“I’m not certain it could be a turnkey situation,” Cost said. “But we are very excited that it’s in pretty good condition.”

The land the building occupies was part of the original Fort Kent State Teachers College, according to John Martin, and was carved out of the campus property when the armory was constructed.

“We have made the pitch we should have it back,” Martin said. “It’s been two years since that building’s been used.”

In addition to the university, Cost and UMFK Vice President for Administration John Murphy said the local school district would benefit from the acquisition.

“The high school wanted to use space in the building for the wrestling team,” Martin said. “But the state would not open it up for them.”

Not only does the purchase need to pass the legislative hurdle, it also needs approval from the University of Maine System board of trustees.

“We will need to make a good business plan to justify this,” Cost said.

“They’re not producing any more land,” Murphy said. “This is a facility right in the middle of several educational facilities; it provides an ideal opportunity.”

With the university campus already facing space concerns, Murphy said the armory facility could not come at a better time.

“We need the cold storage space,” he said. “We also need space for expanded student programs.”

Murphy, who has been charged with developing the business plan for the building, said the next step is to walk through the facility with key university personnel.

“I will then ask them to give me written proposals on different uses they see for the building,” Murphy said.

At the same time, officials with the local school district will have a say on how the space can be used by their students and by members of the community.

“This building will give us the flexibility to meet increased educational and community needs,” Cost said. “At a time of limited space and limited budgets, this is a marvelous opportunity to increase options on this campus.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.