Orange Selectboard closes Armory, relocates offices

  • The Orange Armory at 135 East Main St. in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Masonry deterioration of the Orange Armory at 135 East Main St. in Orange. Parapet wall flashing, which covers the top of the wall, is coming off. COURTESY PHOTO/ORANGE TOWN WEBSITE

  • Severe water damage to upstairs rooms of the Orange Armory at 135 East Main St. in Orange. COURTESY PHOTO/ORANGE TOWN WEBSITE

  • The upstairs roller skating rink office in the Orange Armory at 135 East Main St. COURTESY PHOTO/ORANGE TOWN WEBSITE

  • A crack in a brick wall inside the Orange Armory, with a crack monitor showing an additional half-inch of movement since it was placed there. COURTESY PHOTO/ORANGE TOWN WEBSITE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2021 3:42:32 PM
Modified: 10/22/2021 3:42:42 PM

ORANGE — Due to poor conditions, the Selectboard voted Wednesday to close the Orange Armory, temporarily relocate the town offices based in the building, and work out short- and long-term leases with the owner of a temporary location at 62 Cheney St.

Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker explained that town officials conducted an in-depth study of the building at 135 East Main St. and, due to its age and condition, have been researching other spots to house town services such as the Council on Aging, Board of Health and Planning Board.

“But this got sped up rather rapidly because we had some oil issues in the building,” she said. “The oil tanks in the building are very old and, so, it was noticed that all four were dripping oil. So to avoid any serious issues, we drained all the oil out of those four tanks, so we cannot heat the building right at the moment, and that is one of the major issues. We are hitting November, and the repair of those tanks is going to be extremely costly.”

Town offices housed in the Armory will temporarily operate out of 62 Cheney St., the rectory of the former Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, which a few years ago gave its facilities to Mission Covenant Church, one block away, for social and faith-based activities.

Voelker also said the Armory’s basement always has water in it and the floor is covered in brown mold, “this very slippery, oozy stuff.” She said the building would need a tremendous amount of work to remain open right now.

“Our interior foundation has many cracks, and the building is sinking,” she said, adding that the Orange Armory was constructed on a floodplain and there are also plumbing issues.

Voelker explained the town tried unsuccessfully for years to get an engineer to design a new roof before Tighe & Bond gave an estimate of more than $50,000, which Voelker said was far too expensive. The town eventually contracted with McKenzie Engineering Co., of Leominster, which designed a roof for $28,000. Voelker said the work must go out to bid and the town must pay prevailing wage, which the U.S. Department of Labor defines as “the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in the area of intended employment.”

The roof, Voelker said, is part shingle and part rubber, and there are many issues with the structure’s pointing.

“The roof has basically outlived its lifespan,” she said.

About a week ago, leaks poured into the office of Council on Aging Director Tracy Gaudet.

“She had buckets everywhere,” Voelker said.

The town administrator also said drenched insulation is hanging from the ceiling in the upstairs roller skating rink, and the front staircase is crumbling.

Selectboard Vice Chair Tom Smith, who was chairing Wednesday’s Zoom meeting in the absence of Jane Peirce, who logged on toward the end, said he recently toured the building and that people are met with a smell as soon as they walk in.

“It is a very, very strong odor that is a mixture of an oil smell and, just, dirt,” he said, struggling to come up with a better description. “It’s such an odor that it’s very hard to describe, but it’s not pleasant.”

Smith also said water had gotten into the electrical panel in the basement.

“That alone is a huge hazard,” he said.

Selectboard member Andrew Smith said he is not prepared to have Orange residents’ taxes substantially raised to repair “such a building.” He said he agrees it is a safety hazard, but it might be too far gone to repair.

Selectboard Clerk Pat Lussier said nothing will change the fact that the building is on a floodplain.

“It is still going to sink and sink and sink,” she said.

Richard Sheridan, a Selectboard member who has been in the construction business most of his adult life, acknowledged there are numerous problems with the building because the town has neglected it for years, but any area roofer with experience with rubber roofs should be able to fix it. He said a leak in rubber roofing in the front of the building is responsible for 90 percent of the structure’s problems, and there is $142,000 sitting in an account for the structure’s roof.

He also said the mold and moisture must be abated, but “the (notion) that that building is going to sink into a swamp is ridiculous. We haven’t had any structural engineers saying that that building is going to continue to struggle.”

Sheridan said the major cracks he saw were in interior brick walls, not support walls.

“That is one of the most rugged buildings, strong buildings, that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “To build a building like that would probably cost … $10 to $12 million.”

Sheridan was the only Selectboard member to vote against the motion to close the Armory, saying he could not support disallowing town officials from working in the building and maintaining it.

The motions pertaining to relocating and negotiating a six-month and a longer-term lease were adopted unanimously. That third motion included language about working out a lease with “any other locations suitable for the town operations of (the listed) departments until the final decision is made as to the repair of the Armory or reuse of Butterfield School for town purposes.”

Selectboard members Tom Smith and Andrew Smith expressed their enthusiasm and excitement over having use of the space at 62 Cheney St.

“I can’t say enough good things about this, honestly,” Tom Smith said. “It is a great improvement.”

A slideshow of photographs new Building Commissioner Jeffrey Cooke took of the Armory’s condition can be viewed at

Reach Domenic Poli at: or or 413-772-2061, ext. 262.

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