The National Guard vacated the Belfast Armory Building on the Route 1 Bypass in June. Plans for its future have not yet been made.
The National Guard vacated the Belfast Armory Building on the Route 1 Bypass in June. Plans for its future have not yet been made.
The Maine National Guard Armory in Belfast has served as headquarters, training space and storage area for one of the state’s military engineering units, as well as a disaster meeting point for Belfast residents since World War II, according to Lt. Col. Darryl Lyon.

His National Guard counterpart, Lt. Col. William Dionne, said the concrete-and-brick building also played another important role.

“This was like the bingo capital of Maine,” Dionne said with a laugh.

Those chapters of the Belfast Armory’s story officially passed into National Guard history in June when the 262nd Engineer Company vacated the facility, leaving only clean, empty offices and open spaces large enough to accommodate military drills, basketball games, bulldozer repairs, and monumental bingo nights.

Dionne said a sale, lease, or even demolition are possibilities for the facility, which was constructed in 1941 and includes a 24,000-square-foot, three-story building and 8,000 square yards of secure parking. He explained the armory belongs to the state and, under the provisions of Maine Statute 37B, any sale would not only need to be advertised and open to public bidding, but the price must meet the minimum valuation by an outside assessor and receive legislative approval.

No determination regarding the facility’s future has been made, according to Lyon, a strategic planner for the Maine National Guard.

“All those options are currently on the table for consideration,” he said.

Lyon said the 120-member engineer company had approximately 64 National Guard members who were headquartered and drilled in Belfast, including two to three full-time staff working on supply paperwork in the building at 42 U.S. Route 1 Bypass. The company, which primarily conducts construction projects, will now be headquartered in Sanford, he said.

City officials only learned of the unit’s departure recently, which prompted a July 26 tour of the facility conducted by Lyon and Dionne. Joining the walk-through of the building and compound with questions about its condition, capacity and history were Belfast City Councilors Michael Hurley and Mary Mortier, as well as City Manager Joseph Slocum, the city’s Planner Sadie Lloyd and Assessor Brent Martin, and Director of Code and Planning Wayne Marshall.

Lyon stressed the National Guard hopes to work with the community to determine the best use of the armory.

“We certainly want to collaborate and partner with the City of Belfast,” he said.

Mortier, who represents Ward 1, said it was premature to discuss future plans for the armory, as there have not yet been any council discussions. “Once we learned that the facility was empty, we had an opportunity to view the building and took advantage of it,” she said of the informational tour.

Belfast does not have a reversal clause, a provision written into the original purchase agreement through which ownership reverts to the municipality, according to Dionne, who said Bangor, for example, used such a clause to convert a former armory into a city recreation center.

Hurley, the Ward 4 councilor, said that while city officials have not had an opportunity to discuss the armory’s future, it offers various possibilities.

“It is a large piece of property directly on Route 1 adjacent to the airport and the business park,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential for many different users.”

In recent years the National Guard’s Armory Rental and Leasing Program, which operates at locations throughout the state, provided space rentals in the building. The rates for the 7,500-square-foot auditorium, known as the Drill Hall, ranged between $550 and $275 per day, with different charges for private groups, service organizations and state government entities. Individual rooms rented for $150 per day, while chairs and tables were available for $1 and $5, respectively.

Hurley also recognized the past importance of the armory and the men and women who served there. “It has a deep history and its loss is real,” he said.