MOREHEAD CITY — The National Guard armory on Bridges Street is slated to shutter its doors within the next couple of years and be consolidated with a unit in Jacksonville as part of a statewide effort to reduce the total number of armories in North Carolina.
N.C. National Guard public affairs officer Lt. Col. Matthew Devivo confirmed Friday the Morehead City armory, at 3413 Bridges St., is one of several across the state expected to close in the next few years. However, he said, there is no firm timeframe for when that should happen, and it could be anywhere from one to two years or longer.
“It definitely won’t be within the year,” he said Friday. “…It could even be up to two years from now or longer, just depending on a number of factors.”
Lt. Col. Devivo said the unit of about 50 to 75 soldiers will be transferred to the armory in Jacksonville, where the two units will combine. He added that the closure does not mean units will not respond to events in the area if there is an emergency in the future requiring the aid of the National Guard.
“They will still be there if there is a called emergency,” he said.
The anticipated closure is part of a statewide effort to reduce the number of armories in North Carolina over the next ten years or so.
Lt. Col. Devivo said as recently as four years ago, there were more than 100 individual armories throughout the state, making North Carolina among the states with the most facilities.
Currently, there are 84 armories in operation in North Carolina, and over the next decade, the National Guard plans to reduce the number even further to about 50 or 60 locations.
“Our plan is to reduce our footprint, but that’s a ten- or 15-year process,” Lt. Col. Devivo said. “It won’t be overnight.”
Lt. Col. Devivo said most National Guard facilities were built in the 1960s and 70s and many are simply outdated or do not fulfill current space needs. He said a number of factors have led the National Guard to reevaluate its armories over the past several years, including demographic changes and funding issues.
Lt. Col. Devivo added that the National Guard is in the process of constructing new regional facilities that will eventually house multiple units in a centralized location. In addition to the new buildings being more modern and efficient, he hopes the nicer facilities will help attract new recruits.
“We are looking to build in more strategic areas,” he said.
Once the local unit officially moves out, the National Guard will divest the property back to Morehead City. At least one group has already taken an interest in using the property for its own once the National Guard no longer occupies it.
Carteret Health Care officials have been eyeing the property to build a helipad for launching and landing patient-carrying helicopters. CHC President Dick Brvenik said he has previously held talks with the National Guard and Morehead City about building a helipad, but nothing has come from the discussions, so far.
The hospital is located across the street from the armory and currently has permission from the National Guard to launch and land helicopters on the property.
However, as the hospital continues to grow its services, officials think a helipad would be a good fit.
“It’d be a whole lot safer and a whole lot more efficient than landing on the grass like we have been doing,” CHC board member Julius Taylor said during a board of directors’ meeting last month. “So far we haven’t been able to do anything with it.”
Morehead City Manager Ryan Eggleston has indicated he would be willing to work with the hospital, but no firm agreement has been made, and city staff are waiting to learn more about the National Guard’s plan and timeline before taking any action.
Mr. Brvenik said recently a helipad project would probably cost the hospital about $800,000.
“That’s an important thing to benefit our community,” he said. “…We want to make sure, ideally, to be able to have a pad large enough to accommodate two helicopters. And we also want it to be sized (large) enough for (U.S.) Coast Guard helicopter rescues.”
Lt. Col. Devivo said the cities and counties who have already had properties returned seem “happy to get them back” and have used them for community centers and other various uses.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.