Feasibility study reveals redevelopment, demolition options for Orange Armory

The Orange Armory on East Main Street in Orange.

The Orange Armory on East Main Street in Orange. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-15-2024 6:18 PM

ORANGE — The Orange Armory has served as a home for a volunteer militia regiment, a senior center and a roller rink business, among other functions. Might housing be added to the list?

That’s a distinct possibility, and the professionals tasked with assessing the historic building’s potential adaptive reuse attended the Selectboard meeting virtually on Wednesday to detail the results of a study conducted by Kuhn Riddle Architects and VHB Landscape Designers and Planners. The feasibility study was made possible by a $50,000 grant awarded about two years ago under the Complete Neighborhoods Initiative of Massachusetts Housing Partnership, a quasi-public nonprofit agency.

“The goal of the [initiative] is to help cities and towns create walkable, livable communities and neighborhoods,” said Christine Madore, a senior development manager with Massachusetts Housing Partnership, which hired Kuhn Riddle and VHB to assess the armory’s existing conditions and wetlands. “We also conducted a hazardous materials assessment. We felt that was necessary to inform this board and community on how to move forward with the building.”

While no votes were taken on Wednesday, the presentation provided an opportunity for town officials to hear more about the possibility of renovating the building, or demolishing it and constructing something new. Madore was joined virtually by Charles Roberts and Brad Hutchison, both of Kuhn Riddle Architects.

There are two options for the building at 135 East Main St. — renovation with new construction and demolition with new construction. Armory Commission member Richard Sheridan, formerly a Selectboard member, has vowed to save 111-year-old structure, arguing it is structurally sound and salvageable. He has stressed that the building is not condemned.

According to Wednesday’s presentation, VHB’s site investigation team identified several “recognized environmental conditions,” including potential releases from an above-ground heating oil storage tank and lead from a former indoor pistol range. Additional conditions might be discovered upon further investigation.

The reuse study noted constraints that include significant moisture intrusion and mold and the presence of hazardous materials like asbestos.

The building could be used for roughly 57 units of housing and 74 parking spaces, if renovated. Demolition could pave the way for a new four-story, 21,000-square-foot structure with 5,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space and 88 parking spaces.

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Due to the building falling into disrepair, the Selectboard voted in October 2021 to close the Orange Armory and relocate many of the municipal offices and functions to the rectory of the former Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, which a handful of years ago gave its facilities to Mission Covenant Church for social and faith-based activities. In January 2023, the board signed a lease to operate out of 62 Cheney St. for five years.

Henry Oertel, a volunteer employee for the town, has watched over the Orange Armory for years. He previously said the basement floor is slippery due to water damage and mold, and he has arranged blocks to walk on because he has “taken a few slips and slides and destroyed my clothes.” He said there has been as much as 2 feet of water in the basement, which he said has a functional but delicate sump pump system.

Madore told the Selectboard that Massachusetts Housing Partnership is available to provide further technical assistance to advance affordable housing at the site.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.