Virginia National Guard leaving armory

Published 7:34 pm Friday, August 16, 2019


The Virginia National Guard will vacate the armory in Franklin by the end of September, said Staff Sgt. Donald Bell, who confirmed a tip to the newspaper on Friday morning. The guardsmen will be going to Fort Pendleton in Virginia Beach. Sgt. James Church, who was also in the armory at the time of the interview, said they had to be out by Oct. 1.

Asked the reason for the departure, Bell first moved his head back and forth looking around at the deteriorating interior, as if to say ‘Look around you.’ He then said the other site “has better facilities.”

Indeed, just a glance at the exterior alone shows broken windows and some greenery emerging from the top of a chimney-like structure.

The officer, who has 21 years of service so far in the Guard, said he began his local service this past December, and was previously posted in Emporia where he lives. The two guardsmen said they had been working on the matter for a year, and finally got the OK to vacate this past June. Both men work full-time for the VNG.

As for the armory, Bell said he thinks that what happens to it will be up to the governing body of Franklin.

City attorney Taylor Williams said nothing has been confirmed to the city manager or council, adding he’d heard about a move to Virginia Beach.

“I don’t know what will become of the vacant armory,” Williams said.

He gave a brief history of the site, stating that the very first one was built on Armory Drive in the teens of the 20th century. Then in the 1950s, Camp family members donated five acres to one of the foundations, which then gave it to the Town Franklin, and in turn to the VNG. Franklin also participated by putting in utilities and the access via Campbell Avenue and Armory Drive.

In the past, though, Franklin had an agreement with the armory for use of the building for civic, social and athletic functions when the guardsmen were not occupying it. “I can remember times when the YMCA had fundraisers there that my wife and I would attend. There were dances, basketball games … lot of use,” he said. Further, the city has license to use the parking lot for events at Armory Park, which is part of the land owned by the VNG.

“It’s possible that could be lost if it goes to a third party,” said Williams.

With the exception of adult basketball games, the other community use was stopped at the request of the Guard about five years ago.

“Part of that was cost-savings,” Williams said, adding that the building has become so old. “It cost pretty high to the repair the ventilation.”

The city could have done the repairs, but “the Guard could never get it in their budget to reimburse … the building slowly began to deteriorate.”

Should the Guard decide to offer the building to Franklin, the City “might might have a very hard time to accept it. If it could acquire the property, all kinds of things could be done — demolition or making it into office space, that I could see, or to be used by Camp Community College. There’s a world of potential.”