Jacksonville, FL - The budget boost to bring Florida National Guard armories up to code is just a “jump start” to a greater process the Guard hopes to see get underway.
We first told you earlier this month here on WOKV that Florida’s “GI Bill” awaiting the Governor’s signature will not just provide scholarship and job opportunities to veterans but also give $12.5 million to the Florida Armory Revitalization Program. Two Northeast Florida armories will benefit from that funding. We’re now getting a better idea of the need for this revitalization.
“Armories are now at a point where they’re outdated,” says Lieutenant Colonel Mark Widener, who is the Construction and Facility Management Officer for the Guard.
I walked through the main concerns in the armories right now with Widener, many focus on the age and utility of the buildings. He says the armories- which were built in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s- have had only basic maintenance funding made available over time. The Guard, meanwhile, has adapted new technologies.
“The accommodations in the older armories basically had a hard time supporting that,” Widener says.
He says many of the armories were also built at a time when the Guard was an all-male force, meaning they are not equipped with female bathroom and shower spaces. Some also lack air conditioning in major assembly halls, which can make it difficult for Guardsmen to focus on training.
Many of the buildings were also not designed as armory space to begin with.
One of the Northeast Florida projects receiving funding under this bill is a building at Cecil Field. Widener says the Florida National Guard took that space over when the Navy left, and under the Navy the building served as a flight simulator. They assumed the space because it was in a location they needed to support their air operations, but needs heavy adapting in order to suit those needs.
The second local project getting funding is the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center. Widener says they will be adding storage space, making mechanical enhancements, and modernizing the bathroom/shower facilities.
The Florida National Guard plans to revitalize a total of 51 armories by 2016, 43 are already completed or underway. I asked Widener what happens at that point- whether the list just gets started over or there’s some other plan for maintenance in place.
“You cannot just let buildings go without attention and putting maintenance dollars to them,” he says.
Widener says this revitalization program is getting the conversation going about the increased need for significant long term funding. Despite all the renovating, he says the best solution for the aging buildings is to just replace them entirely.
“That money is just, long term, not available to the level we need to replace this aging infrastructure,” he says.
He hopes to see the Guard begin working on a program that sustains the buildings in the long term. The armories alone total more than one million acres across Florida.