Town of Lovell expresses interest in National Guard armory building

By David Peck

The Town of Lovell last week expressed interest in working with the Wyoming Army National Guard to take possession of the armory building in Lovell if the Guard ends up moving operations from Lovell to Sheridan in the years ahead.

During the regular town council meeting on Tuesday, July 13, Mayor Tom Newman said he had spoken with National Guard adjutant general Greg Porter in the days before the meeting about the Guard’s intentions for the armory and field maintenance shop buildings.

Newman was reacting to a local perception that the National Guard might eventually have to demolish the facilities, based on a June 22 letter written by the Guard’s cultural resources manager to the State Historic Preservation Office concerning plans to delist the armory and field maintenance shop with the construction of a new facility in Sheridan.

Since the buildings are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the buildings, if delisted and abandoned, could deteriorate and the lack of preventive maintenance would be considered an adverse effect to a historic property under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

That possible series of events is spelled out in a proposed memorandum of understanding, which states that the Wyoming Military Department, responsible for construction and upkeep of Guard facilities, “must remove the Lovell Armory from Federal funding in order NGB (the National Guard Bureau) to fund and support a new facility in its place and may demolish the structure at a later date using federal funds.”

That sentence is what has local citizens concerned, but Porter assured Mayor Newman and others (see related story in last week’s Chronicle) that the armory would be razed only as a last resort.

At the July 13 meeting town administrator Jed Nebel said the original June 22 letter appeared to be, essentially, a form letter and the Guard said it should have been more personalized toward the Lovell situation. The National Guard needs a partner in the process, Nebel said, and both sides agree that could be the Town of Lovell, either for a purchase/transfer of title or a long-term lease. The county is another possibility.

“We expressed that the town is absolutely interested (in the armory),” Newman said, noting that it will take a few weeks for an inspection and cost estimates, and he expects more information by September on the building and whether asbestos abatement or other work would be necessary. Whatever happens, the transfer of ownership or lease wouldn’t take place until two or three years from now when the facility in Sheridan is ready, perhaps in 2024.

Newman said the town would like to “repurpose and reuse” some of the facility for town purposes, with other entities interested, as well.

Rich Fink, commander of Robert Boyd Stewart American Legion Post 11 and a longtime career guardsman, said the armory is not only a special place to him and other local veterans, it is a well maintained facility and can still be of use to many.

“The reason I’m so adamant about this is that I was there for 37 years, and it’s not an old, crummy building,” Fink said. “It’s all fixed up. The Search and Rescue is looking for a building, and she (pointing to Lovell-Kane Museum board president Karen Spragg) is looking for a bigger building.”

Fink said he has told National Guard officials that they need to hold a public meeting in Lovell about the facilities, and he urged the mayor and council to be transparent about their intentions, as well.

“Doing things behind closed doors doesn’t let the public be involved,” he said. “You need to take it forward and do it right. You’ll have to look at maintenance costs, and I would volunteer to be on a committee. I know more about that armory than they do in Cheyenne.

“If you drive around these (National Guard) towns, this one (armory) is maintained better than any of them. We know we’ve lost that maintenance shop. The new one (in Sheridan) will be huge. They need 40 acres.”

“We’d do everything we can to maintain the integrity of the building,” Newman said. “I hope it works out. It would be awesome for everybody.”

Spragg said the museum has already outgrown the building provided to them by Loretta Bischoff a few years ago, noting that there isn’t enough room for the displays they have. About three-quarters of one room in the current building on Oregon is dedicated to the military, she said, noting that local people have been very interested and generous.

“Over there (armory) would be wonderful,” Spragg said. “There would be parking.”

“Remember that the soonest they would vacate is 2024, and things could change,” Newman cautioned.