Village wants armory for police, fire and rescue building

SARANAC LAKE – Village officials want to turn the New York State Army National Guard armory on state Route 3 into a public safety building that would house police, fire and rescue services.

The state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, however, says it has no plans to vacate the facility.

“We’re planning to retain the armory in Saranac Lake,” division spokesman Eric Durr told the Enterprise Tuesday.

Village trustees voted unanimously Monday to send a letter signed by Mayor Clyde Rabideau to Deputy Secretary of State Dede Scozzafava expressing interest in the 20,000-square-foot building, which was finished in 1962 and sits on a 29-acre parcel of land. The letter says the village “must” take action to develop new public safety facilities for its police and fire departments.

Rabideau wrote that the village would like to relocate the police department from its current site behind the former village offices. The move would allow the biotech company Myriad RBM, which started leasing the village office building last year, to expand and bring more jobs to the area, Rabideau wrote.

Meanwhile, Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department officials have been pushing for years to get a new firehouse because its current location on Broadway, which also is home to the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad, is outdated and too small to house all the department’s equipment and vehicles.

Rabideau’s letter says the village’s goal is to combine emergency services into one public safety facility, including coordination with E-911 services in Essex and Franklin counties. Constructing a new building, however, would cost in excess of $10 million, the mayor wrote.

“The armory offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the village to combine the police and fire departments in one affordable public safety facility to serve the Saranac Lake region,” the letter states. “Since the armory appears to be an underutilized property, the village is hopeful that the state will see this as a positive opportunity as well.”

“Please let me know if the state is open to exploring options for the long-term use of the armory for public safety services in the Saranac Lake region.”

Rabideau told the Enterprise after Monday’s meeting that village officials have been talking to the state “on and off” for about six months and have toured the armory. Asked if the village has some indication that the state is looking to sell it, Rabideau said no.

“Should they ever decide to dispose of the asset, we want to be on record that we’re interested in looking at it,” he said. “Being interested in it and actually doing it are two different things. We’d have to go through cost analysis, engineering studies and all that. It has potential, but we’ll see.”

Four years ago, the Saranac Lake armory and three others in the state were being reviewed to determine whether they should be closed. Saranac Lake was picked because the armory is located in a small community, supports relatively few soldiers and had just one full-time employee at the time. At the conclusion of that review, however, the state ultimately decided to keep the facility open.

Durr said he’s aware that village officials are interested in the armory, but “we don’t see it as something we want to give up.

“One of the reasons is because it’s the only armory we have in the Adirondacks,” he said.

Home to a detachment from the Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, the armory is used for one-weekend-a-month training activities. However, Durr said it’s an important operating base that Guard troops can use to respond to emergencies in the region. When Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island, some of that region’s armories became emergency operations centers, he said.

The Saranac Lake armory is also a recruiting site and is occasionally used for training by other military units, Durr said. Just this past weekend, it served as the base of operations for convoy training conducted by the New York Army National Guard’s 1156th Engineer Company, based in Kingston.

In recent years, Durr said, the state has sold some of its armories including sites in Batavia, Rochester and Glens Falls. For an armory to be conveyed to a local municipality, legislation would have to be passed in Albany, he said. For example, the former armory in Newburgh was turned over to that city for use as a recreation center, but only after special legislation was passed.

How is the Department of State involved? Scozzafava said her agency wouldn’t play a role in any decision about the use of the Saranac Lake armory, but its Local Government Division supports and assists municipalities’ interest in shared services.

“I am well aware that the village of Saranac Lake is interested in pursuing this matter,” Scozzafava said in a prepared statement provided by a DOS spokesperson. “Upon receipt of a formal request by the village, I would gladly forward it to the appropriate contacts at the Division of Military and Naval Affairs.”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or