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National Guard happy with new armory

BY ALAN TOUSSAINT | NOVEMBER 16, 2010 7:20 AM

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Inside a rectangular-shaped red building with a long line of large camouflaged vehicles parked in front, 40 employees in similar camouflage uniforms work daily, soldiers visit for drills and training once a month, and people use some of the armory's resources such as video interactive classrooms — all surrounded by state-of-the-art security systems.

Members of the Iowa National Guard have been comfortable at their new location, the Iowa City National Guard Armory on 4540 Melrose Ave., since November 2009.

The site, near Interstate 218 down Melrose Avenue, offers a 120,000 square-foot updated facility, and employees are happy with the new resources provided.

"There's more space and amenities out here than the old location," said garrison commander Lt. Col. Tim Carey.

Carey, 44, has been in the new armory since the local Guard moved in last year, and he remembers unexpectedly moving out of the old one.

The old armory, located at 925 S. Dubuque St. — was originally built in 1937 to house the 113th Calvary and 136th Medical Regiments — was destroyed by the 2008 flood.

"We had to pick up our equipment in the middle of our operation and go to somewhere else," Carey said.

People stationed at the armory had to move equipment even as they served as a tactical base of support for surrounding flooded areas.

Though plans for a new armory had been in the works prior to the floods, officials hadn't started building yet, said 1st Lt. Jamie Clasen, 31, the training officer for the 109th Medical Battalion. In a sense, the flood pushed the project ahead of schedule, he said.

Until the new space was completed, the units were forced to move into two temporary locations. In June 2008, they moved into the first location in Washington, Iowa, and then to the Heartland Express building on Highway 965 in Coralville in October. The relocations caused several hardships, specifically because of space, like storing trucks at the Iowa City airport to prevent water damage.

But the new armory features many amenities.

It has better video communications technology, allowing units to communicate with other units across the state. Outside agencies can also use these classroom facilities. An updated kitchen can feed the 500 people sometimes at the armory for training. An indoor storage for vehicles allows those at the armory to know they will start regardless of cold weather — an important issue when they are called to assist other agencies in the case of a winter storm, and a loading dock allows them to more easily unload equipment and supplies.

"This one is more modernized and more eco-friendly here," Clasen said.

The money to fund the $23 million building on Melrose was built with the help of federal government, part of the Navy's Base Realignment and Closure program, Carey said.

In 2009, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted using the flood-damaged property for green space and a parking lot.

"Part of it was to tear down and recycle the old materials and then the whole thing had to be graded and broken down into pavement for the parking lot," said Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan.

Though they've gone through three buildings to get where they are, Carey said it was ultimately "for the best."


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