Use of the Old Bethel Armory still in limbo

by Mark Arehart on November 5, 2012

Use of the Old Armory in Bethel has been at the forefront in recent months. Currently only the Lower Kuskokwim School District is allowed use of the building’s gym—leaving many in the community without a gym space. But many community members are not allowed to use the armory gym for activities.

LKSD and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, or DMVA, have made an agreement to keep the gym open for both Ayaprun Elitnaurvik and Bethel Alternative Boarding School students.

But DMVA Deputy Commissioner Mchugh Pierre said a deal cannot be made between his office and the City of Bethel for general community use because the DMVA would lose federal funds or “cost share” for eventual demolition.

“We will lose that cost share if we enter into new user lease agreements with the facility because we are showing intent that the state wants to keep and use the building,” Pierre said.

He said it’s up to the city and the school district to strike a deal for any community use.

“So the bottom line is we need to work with the school district and the city to accomplish some kind of community schools program that will allow the school district to continue thorough it’s contract with us to allow other folks into the building as appropriate.”

If the city did make an agreement with LKSD, Pierre says the price to use the Armory would then go up. “If the city goes into a use agreement with the school district to add basketball or some other activity beyond that. There would have to be a further cost share effort for the building. And that’s going to be worked out between the school district an the city. I don’t know the exact cost,” Pierre said.

As it stands now, Pierre says the DMVA will continue to honor the original use agreement it has with LKSD, one that costs the school district $10,000 per year.

But, in a previous interview, LKSD Superintendant Gary Baldwin said the district expects to be charged quite a bit more. He said LKSD had been informed that it will be footing the bill for the buildings operating costs, something like $70,000 annually.

As it stands now, Pierre says the DMVA will continue to honor the original use agreement it has with LKSD, one that costs the school district $10,000 per year.

The City expects to enter into negotiations with LKSD sometime soon to allow for community use at the Old Armory.

But even if that agreement is made, the issue of demolition still looms.

“We’re going to demolish the building, you know, right away. We are not going to demolish it next summer. We may demolish it next summer if that works out with what the community needs and how the community works to have other facilities or similar facilities in the area,” Pierre said.

The City of Bethel wants the DMVA to put the demolition money, estimated at $500,000, into an escrow account and sign the building over to the city. But Pierre says that is not likely.

“That’s not an option that we have to offer forward as DMVA. However that’s an option that the city is going to pursue through it’s legislators to determine what are the bounds of reality for making that happen.”

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