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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Post-gazette NOW
Canonsburg explores purchase of Armory
Sunday, January 18, 2009

Canonsburg Councilman Joseph Milioto, a former member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, describes the armory on West College Street as "massive" and "like a high gymnasium."

He and others in the borough want to investigate whether the borough can purchase it.

The red brick, two-story building is expected to be up for sale by the end of this year or early next year. If the borough can find the money, it will have the opportunity to buy the building for use as a senior citizens' center, police department or municipal offices.

The armory is where Guard members assemble on drill weekends and train, said Mark Austin, director of facilities and engineering for the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The building is owned by the state.

More than 100 soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry in Canonsburg and Waynesburg will be moved to a new readiness center in the EverGreene Technology Park in Greene County. Ground was broken for the $9.5 million building in November.

Mr. Austin said a modern, larger building is needed. The Canonsburg armory is less than 10,000 square feet.

"It's just very antiquated," he said.

According to a historical marker outside the building, the armory was erected in 1938 for Hospital Co. 108, 103rd Medical Regiment, which became part of the National Guard in the mid-1920s.

The lot had been the site of the house of the president of Jefferson College and the house was built in the early 1840s.

The state will give the opportunity to the borough, a community group or nonprofit organization first, provided the purchaser pays fair market value, Mr. Austin said.

During a council meeting earlier this month, borough Manager Terry Hazlett brought up the subject of the armory after receiving a letter from Mr. Austin.

Mr. Hazlett said a former councilman, James Romano, told him when the armory was built in the 1930s, there was an agreement allowing the borough to purchase the building for $1 if it ever went up for sale. Mayor Anthony Colaizzo also said he's heard the same thing.

However, Mr. Hazlett hasn't found any evidence of such an agreement and Mr. Austin said there's no such stipulation in the deed.

If the borough can purchase the building at a reduced price or through securing some state funds, the basement could be used for the police department while the rest of the building could house council meetings and borough offices, Mr. Hazlett said.

Then, the borough could rent the current municipal building once the Greater Canonsburg Public Library relocates to its new location, although construction hasn't started yet on the library building.

Council President Daniel Caruso said the armory could accommodate a new senior citizens' center because it is closer to a high rise where seniors live than the current location near the municipal building on Pike Street.

A committee of councilmembers and Mr. Hazlett are examining what to do with the library space once it's vacated and to consider the issue of buying the armory.

"We're just trying to get our ducks in a row in case we do want to buy the building," Mr. Hazlett said.

Mr. Milioto, who was a guardsman in the 1960s, said he hasn't really looked around the building since 1970 but remembers the interior had high ceilings and the lower level was used to house weapons and trucks and had offices and a kitchen.

He wants a "full investigation" into the possible purchase.

Mr. Milioto said the building may need to be renovated and probably will cost a great deal to maintain, especially for heating. He's wary about making a purchase using borough funds.

"For taxpayers to take on something like that, you have to proceed with caution," he said.

The building is used as a voting precinct. It was a dance hall in the 1960s and has been the site of events such as a battle of the bands and summer camp, and has been a gymnasium of a middle school, Mr. Hazlett said.

The building could be used for community events, after-school activities or a YMCA, Mr. Austin said. The large drill court is good for basketball.

Mr. Austin said former armories have been sold in other communities for about $150,000, although the price for the one in Canonsburg won't be determined until after it's vacated and appraised.

Freelance writer Crystal Ola can be reached in care of
First published on January 18, 2009 at 12:00 am