New proposals from City Hall could soon transform the Goffe Street Armory — a cavernous, 240,000-square-foot building in Dixwell that has sat vacant for five years — into a storage center and generator of solar power.
The building, according to City Controller Daryl Jones, could be used as a storage space for city records. Additionally, proposals from City Hall call for the construction of a new roof for the armory, on which solar panels would be built.
The proposed renovations are a part of New Haven’s “Design-Build Program for the City.” On Sept. 7, Mayor Toni Harp’s administration began soliciting proposals — due by Oct. 7 — to partially redesign several buildings across New Haven, including the armory, City Hall and the Goffe Street firehouse. According the municipal document requesting these proposals, Elm City officials expect to select a firm for the armory project by Oct. 14.
The building, located about a half mile from Yale’s campus at 280 Goffe St., has stood empty since the National Guard vacated it in 2009. The state transferred ownership of the building to the city in 2012 — a shift of responsibilities that spurred a debate over which party would pay for repairs.
That year, the Armory was in serious need of repair, as the accumulated weight of snow tore a hole in the roof in the winter of 2011, causing significant flooding. That issue has still not been entirely resolved, and a prime objective of this new project is to repair the roof in an effort to make the Armory fully useable once more.
The proposed use of the armory as a storage space aligns with a general trend in New Haven’s government, according to Giovanni Zinn ’05, a city engineer.
“We have a lot of different storage spaces in the city,” he said. “In the short term, we can use that as a simple storage space.”
Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola also emphasized that using the Armory as a storage facility could save the city a significant sum. Indeed, in an interview with the New Haven Independent, William Macmullen, a city engineer, said the plan will save the city $600,000 per year — the money currently spent on leasing storage space for documents.
Zinn said that the construction of solar panels on the newly repaired roof will also produce benefits for New Haven.
“It’s a fifteen-year agreement where we pay a set rate per kilowatt hour produced, and we don’t pay for any of the capital,” Zinn said.
The city government will provide a private company the rights to build on the Armory’s roof in exchange for a fifteen-year commitment to buy solar energy at a fixed price from the company. This arrangement would produce “significant cost savings” for the city, according to Zinn.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Zinn said. “Private capital goes up and public entities save money.”
Zinn added that the project incentivizes the use of energy sources with a low environmental impact.
Zinn said that the Zero Emission Renewable Energy Credits program, signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy in July 2011, has incentivized many municipal authorities to pursue solar power. Under this program, Connecticut Light and Power and United Illuminating, the two electric utility companies in the state, must enter into contracts amounting in total to $8 million with firms producing sources of zero-emission energy, such as solar power, wind turbines and hydro generators.
While the city has presented its short-term plans for the armory, its long-term goals for the armory remain unclear. One proposal is the conversion of the armory into a community center, a cause championed by Ward 28 Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe since the National Guard vacated the building.
Robinson-Thorpe and former alder Bitsie Clark proposed in 2010 that the Armory be converted into a community center for the Dixwell neighborhood, possibly as a replacement for Q House. They envisioned a “one-stop” center, with a diverse array of programs all concentrated in one place.
Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, who chairs the Aldermanic Youth Services Committee, supported Robinson-Thorpe’s proposal as a step towards creating a network of community centers in the Elm City.
It is unclear whether a community center could fill out the entire space in the armory building.
“When they threw that out there with respect to the armory becoming a teen center, that was one of just many things, since the building is so big,” said Jeanette Morrison, alder for Ward 22.
New Haven’s problems with the Armory are not unique — old industrial warehouses vex municipalities across Connecticut. The Goffe Street Firehouse and old Winchester Arms industrial complex both raise similar issues in New Haven. In Stratford, the debate over the refurbishment of the vacant Army Engine Plant has raged for twenty years, and Bridgeport faced the same problem with the remnants of the Remington Arms Factory.
Currently, the Armory is being used as a venue for temporary artistic exhibits in the annual City-Wide Open Studios festival, similar to use of the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York City.