Grant could transform armory into community center

Governor Dannel Malloy has yet to approve a $2.6 million state grant meant to repair extensive weather damage on the historic Goffe Street Armory into a community center. The money would also help transform the cavernous building into a community center.

Since the state’s National Guard abandoned the Armory in 2010, there have been various community and municipal efforts, led by Ward 28 Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe and Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12, to repair the deeply damaged building. The Goffe Street Armory Planning Committee, chaired by Robinson-Thorpe, met Tuesday to discuss the grant’s delay, as well as logistics for the Armory’s first event: the 16th annual Open Studios art festival, organized by a local organization called Art Space.

On the weekend of Oct. 26-27, the Armory will host 130 visual artists as they display and sell their work to the public. In the month leading up to this exposition, Open Studios will feature artwork in many other venues citywide.

Art Space’s executive director Helen Kauder said that the Armory is an ideal venue because the artists and viewers will respond well to its aesthetic beauty, high ceilings, rich history and location at the “heart of a vibrant community.”

“We’re hoping to ignite [the] community’s imagination on what building could be … [as] part of the whole redevelopment process,” she said.

In preparation, Art Space has sealed off unsafe sections of the Armory and done several clean-ups. Robinson-Thorpe decided to spearhead the redevelopment process to create a “one-stop” community center for the neighborhood in response to her constituents’ concerns and suggestions. Her vision is to include commercial development alongside community services in the space in order to make sure it could sustain itself without drawing on the city’s already-strained budget.

But the process, two years in the making, is taking longer than expected, much to the frustration of the planning committee. The State Department of Economic and Community Development grant of $2.6 million has passed through the state legislature but is still awaiting approval from the governor’s office. Most of the grant will go to repairing damages that have resulted from the state’s failure to keep the building well maintained. The building suffered extensive damage during the winter of 2010-2011 when the state did not heat the building, leading to the collapse of a part of the roof and resulting water damage to the floors, said Rob Smuts ’01, the mayor’s chief administrative officer.

“We want to take ownership of the building, we just don’t want it in the condition it’s in,” said Robinson-Thorpe.

The grant will pay for a complete refurbishment of the 155,000 square foot building, including repairing the roof, removing the asbestos and lead in the walls, refinishing the floors and upgrading the outdated heating, ventilating and air conditioning system. According to the committee’s project timeline, construction on the building will begin Nov. 11.

Until the state comes through with the grant money to pay for the repairs, Smuts said, the city cannot accept ownership of the building. Though the state insists ownership was transferred in 2011, Smuts said in the meeting that the city “maintains that [the state] did not change ownership properly; they did not follow state law. We agreed to take it once the repairs were made.”

Robinson-Thorpe speculated that this is due in part to the state’s own mounting budget concerns. The committee agreed that it would more “aggressively” seek Governor Malloy’s approval of the DECD grant by contacting him directly and inviting him to the Open Studios festival. Kauder said that this would also “raise the profile” of the event.

William Macmullen, the city’s architectural design coordinator, said that the $2.7 million sum the city needs renovate the building is relatively trivial compared to other construction projects the state is funding in New Haven.

“To put this in perspective, the Yale Boathouse has spent $6 million in state funds on design alone, with $26 million more for construction,” he said.

The historic building, located about a mile northwest of Yale campus, served as the headquarters of the Connecticut National Guard from its completion in 1930 to its abandonment in 2009.

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