City of Bethel mulls Armory land sale

by Mark Arehart on April 19, 2013

The old National Guard Armory in Bethel. Officials say it should be usable for the next 20 years.

The old National Guard Armory in Bethel. Officials say it will be usable for about 20 years.

At its last meeting, the Bethel City Council voted to introduce an ordinance that would hand over the land beneath the old National Guard Armory in Bethel to the Lower Kuskokwim School District.

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The fate of the Armory, which houses one of the city’s only gyms, has been in question for almost a year.

The Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs, a division of the Army National Guard, owns the building.

They are in the process of passing it over to LKSD. The City owns the land the Armory sits on.

City Manager Lee Foley said if the deal between the city and the school district were to go through “…it would allow for LKSD to continue to use the gymnasium and they would in turn incur the liability of demolishing the building with all of its hazardous materials.”

Officials say the building, which has hazardous materials throughout that are said to be held safely in check, may have a lifespan of about 20 more years.

Council Member Sharon Sigmund said initially she was not happy with the National Guard. “I find it very offensive that the National Guard can walk away, brush their hands off, and have no responsibility for what they are leaving on this land.”

The Armory is used by two LKSD schools as a gym. Some council members were decidedly optimistic about the entire situation.

“I’m just thankful we came up with a solution. That’s where I’m coming from. As a parent of kids that go to Ayaprun Elitnaruvik, and as someone who hears from the public a lot about the need for a gym, especially for adult parks and recreation needs, I am thankful that this is a workable solution,” Council Member Mary Sattler said.

A point of contention will be whether or not LKSD would buy or lease the land. Many on council, including Mayor Joe Klejka, favor a lease agreement to ensure the city has rights to the land after the armory’s eventual demolition.

“We do not have to sell it to them; they will accept the lease for another 40 years,” Klejka said.

Officials at LKSD could not be reached for comment in time for this story.

A public hearing on the ordinance is expected at a future council meeting.

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