Armory’s Rebirth Comes Into Focus

Paul Bass PhotosA crew hauled an evicted household’s belongings into a first-floor expanse where National Guard jeeps once stood, as a planned remaking of the old Goffe Street Armory begins taking shape.

The crew was making a visit to the Department of Public Works’ eviction warehouse, where households’ belongings are stored for either future retrieval or auction.

The city moved the warehouse last summer from a building on Blatchley Avenue along to the rear first floor of the 86-year-old brick fortress, saving taxpayers over $100,000 a year in rent, according to William MacMullen, city government’s architectural capital protects coordinator. MacMullen also had an adjoining space retrofitted to store bicycles collected by the cops. (The city reached a settlement with the state Thursday on a $2,048 fine for health and safety violations in the space, which the city said it has since fixed.)

Now MacMullen is finalizing proposed plans for the rest of the 130,000 or so square feet of the long-vacant former armory at 290 Goffe, which the state handed over to the city seven years ago.

MacMullen has had the pleasure (which for an engineer like him is indeed a pleasure) of imagining how to breathe new life into a dead building.

Within the next month, MacMullen plans to complete a final report on the city’s intentions for the armory. It’s an update of a preliminary plan he drew up three years ago.

“This building, this armory, was built with a real purpose: To train people. To store weapons. Everything is sized to that. When we closed the building, I remember going inside. There were huge deuce and a half trucks, four wheels in the back. Every World War II movie you see them. They were moving their things out of there,” said MacMullen, who most recently designed the rebuilding of the fire-ravaged Coogan Pavilion in Edgewood Park, which reopened last February.

“This is fun. It has all kinds of possibilities. The bones are all there. All you’ve got to do is adapt it for new uses. It’s kind of exciting, to take an old thing like that and repurpose it for 21st century stuff. And it saves the city a lot of money: The building’s already there. The building is very, very flexible because of the way it’s constructed. These buildings were built to last. They were not built to last.  It has this huge space in the middle. All you have to do is give it life again.”

Moving Pieces

He described the highlights during a visit Wednesday morning:

• Moving the Board of Education and city health department’s offices from the 54 Meadow St. building to the armory’s upper floors. Besides saving rent money, the move would free up for development a prime property across from the train station, MacMullen said. The Board of Ed originally floated the same idea during a “innovation-based budgeting” process under the last city administration, arguing that the move would both save money and place the Board of Ed more centrally in the community. The Board of Ed owns 45 percent of the building and rents some space, with a private partner, developer Martin Kenny, owning the rest, according to Board of Ed Chief Operating Officer Will Clark.

Coincidentally, the original armory—the one replaced by the Goffe Street armory—was located right near 54 Meadow, MacMullen said.

• Placing a new city-run “incubator kitchen” on around 6,000 square feet of the front first floor space. Caterers and other food-oriented small business owners would make use of the space. City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson said his office is working on grant proposals to fund the center, which would target both start-ups and owners of intermediate-level enterprises that need to scale up from small kitchens to distribute more product but can’t yet support their own factories. Business owners would rent use of the kitchen’s refrigerator, mixing area, oven, and juicer; ideally, schedules could be timed so that two enterprises at once could have crews in the kitchen. Nemerson said he also hopes to tap into the not-for-profit ConnCAT’s training program for aspiring culinary workers.

“Connecticut has very restrictive laws in terms of people building home commercial kitchens,” Nemerson observed. “The food industry is growing all around the country; many states make it possible for you to build a commercial kitchen in your garage or basement or even your kitchen. Connecticut really doesn’t like that.” Hence the need for the proposed armory space.

• Putting a one-stop social services center on around another 6,000 square feet of front first-floor space, under the aegis of city government’s Community Services Administration.

• Making the vast open hall on the first floor available for arts events (the way Citywide Open Studios made use of it in recent years) and possible indoor sports like pitching practice or soccer.

MacMullen estimates the retrofitting of the entire building can be accomplished for a couple of million dollars; he’s updating his $2.7 million from three years ago. The main costs include upgrading the heating and plumbing, as well as putting a ramp in the front and installing an elevator to make the facility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The building’s already here,” MacMullen said. “We’ve got a decent roof. We’ve got nine-year-old windows. The National Guard buttoned it up for us pretty good.”

Much of the money—especially for a Board of Ed move—could come from matching state or other grants, MacMullen suggested.

Elected officials originally envisioned the armory as the site for a New Haven version of a celebrated New York City after-school youth drop-in center called The Door. Since then, the city has organized a soon-to-open home for that center—to be called The Escape—a block from the armory at the Community Outreach Center on Orchard Street.

State Health & Safety Complaint

A hiccup in the city’s plans occurred recently when an inspector from the state Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Heath found code violations at the new warehouse space.

“Currently, the employees, State Marshals, and general public are placed in danger while the premises are occupied: No means of egress, no fire suppression system, no smoke detectors, no carbon monoxide detectors, no fire alarm system, no sprinkler system, no exhaust system, no ventilation system, no exist signs, no emergency lighting, inadequate lighting, no running water, storage of combustibles in one half of the building (police property area) i.e. mopeds, motorcycles, etc.,” according to a notice of alleged safety or health hazards the labor department issued to the city.

“There is an overhead door and a side door used for entry and exit. When there is a delivery or pick up of goods, the entire entrance and side door are blocked preventing anyone from within finding means of escape from carbon monoxide or in case of fire from within or caused from outside.”

An “informal conference” with the city on the citation took place Thursday morning in Wethersfield.

The city demonstrated to the state that it had fixed all the problems cited. The two sides reached a settlement: the state agreed to reduce the fine for the violations by 40 percent, to $2,268; and the city agreed to have OSHA come do training for the public works department in hazardous waste management and fire safety.

“We look at it as a win-win situation” because of the free training, public works chief Jeff Pescosolido said Thursday afternoon

Labor Department spokeswoman Nancy Steffens Friday confirmed that the case has been closed. Here is the citation.

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posted by: robn on February 5, 2016  9:31am

So the City of New Haven got busted for building code violations? Potential irony alert….ahem…“smoothie”.

Anyone?

posted by: Helen@Artspace on February 5, 2016  10:59am

Travis Carbonella made this short video that shows how the entire space—not just the Drill Hall—comes alive during City-Wide Open Studios. The site holds the potential to be a treasure for the neighborhood and the New Haven community and an anchor for a larger surrounding campus (e.g. DeGale Field, Hillhouse etc).

https://vimeo.com/142209838

Artspace has announced that the focus of next fall’s festival will be all about games—sports, scavenger hunts, interactive art to be played with teams. We’re inviting designers, coaches, athletes, engineers, creative people from all backgrounds to propose participatory games. Please join us—funds will be available to realize the selected projects. And we’d love to hear from anyone interested in serving as a referee, coach or to help pick the winning proposals. Here’s the link:

https://artspacenh.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/open-call-game-on/

posted by: Walt on February 5, 2016  11:38am

This building was also the birthplace, right after World War II.  of Division   3,8 of the US Naval   Reserve which later moved to   new   shoreline facilities   in the Morris Cove section of New Haven

posted by: Esbey on February 5, 2016  11:53am

It is amazingly great that this costs only $2 million (seriously), while saving the city significant operating expenses elsewhere.  Freeing up space near the train station is win-win.  The plan signals a city thinking the right way about costs and benefits.  It would have been so easy (so typical) to turn this into some kind of fancy architect-driven overpriced vanity project. 

@robn: no.  The city cooperated, fix the issues, paid a fine and accepted training.  Is that what the owners of the “Smoothie” building have done?  Is it still a fire trap?

@Helen: so cool.

posted by: STANDUP on February 5, 2016  1:35pm

It should mixed use for businesses and city departments. We have enough youth programs with COC and the Q-house.

posted by: Bradley on February 5, 2016  3:29pm

STANDUP, putting businesses in the Armory would complicate its property tax status.  The sale of the city’s share of 54 Meadow will create a substantial amount of space for business.

Esbey, I suspect it will cost more than $2 million to update the building. The $2.7 million estimate is a couple of years old and I doubt it includes the costs furnishing the building.

While I like the idea of incubator kitchens, wouldn’t a kitchen in the Armory compete with the one that Cityseed has set up?

Notwithstanding the above, I am looking forward to this project going forward.

posted by: robn on February 5, 2016  3:31pm

ESBEY,

It is truly amazing and some would say magical that the city was able, in the short span of 15 days in a building that’s 100s of thousands of square feet to correct,” No means of egress, no fire suppression system, no smoke detectors, no carbon monoxide detectors, no fire alarm system, no sprinkler system, no exhaust system, no ventilation system, no exist signs, no emergency lighting, inadequate lighting…”

Magical.

As for saving money, look to the creation of new entitlements out of thin air to fill the rest of this cavernous white elephant. Just like Q House was a failed non profit that the city adopted, others are sure to follow. Would have liked to have seen the dividend of reduced school construction payments alleviate taxpayer burden but it’s a lot easier for the BOA just to soak up that extra cash and throw it at political supporters.

posted by: RHeerema on February 5, 2016  5:25pm

It’s wonderful that this large building will be put back into effective use. Well done, Bill MacMullan and others who have worked on this plan!!

posted by: Colin M. Caplan on February 6, 2016  1:38pm

Frank Sinatra played here in 1940, his first New Haven concert!

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on February 9, 2016  3:00am

“These buildings were built to last. They were not built to last.”

OK, which one is it?

posted by: Renewhavener on February 9, 2016  10:32am

@robn, Q-House was not just adopted by the City.  The majority of funding to revitalize this NGO has come from all state tax payers via the most recent bonding.  Unlike a child however, it will not reach the age of majority in 18 years, we own it via state long-term debt for much longer (See page 84):
http://ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/Agenda_Jan29_2016_APPROVED.pdf

Given that we are already committed to both the bonding and the Armory, why isn’t it an option for Q-House?  It is literally three blocks away.  The value proposition for Dixwell appears based on historical precedent and inertia:
http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/guv_q_house_money_on_the_way/

@Esbey, et al, $2.7MM will not offer much in the way of improvement to this structure.  It may provide the core / shell with updated mechanical and code compliant restrooms, but each of the proposed program uses would have to bear the cost of their own fit-outs.