Military starts moving into new center
By DIRK PERREFORT | The News-Times, Danbury, Conn. | Published: April 4, 2014
DANBURY, Conn. — Soldiers are moving into the new U.S. Army Reserve training facility off Wooster Heights Road.
The systematic use of the new facility is a contrast to when the project was proposed.
Controversy erupted more than four years ago when it was disclosed that military officials were considering the location on the Lee Farm property, an expansive series of meadows that was once home to a dairy farm near the city's downtown.
Danbury became the primary choice in April 2010 after Newtown officials had rejected the center.
But today, local officials said the nearly 100,000-square-foot building that sits prominently on the hillside looks more like a school than a military installation. But the building is packed with classrooms and computer labs to train soldiers in the latest military techniques and strategies.
The building includes a regional maintenance shop for military vehicles, as well as a weapons-simulation room with soundproof walls and the latest computer technology to recreate scenarios soldiers may encounter in the field.
The center was created through the federal Base Realignment and Closure program that aimed to provide more modern facilities while cutting maintenance costs for older, outdated buildings.
"Both the military units and the personnel really appreciate having a modern and state-of-the-art environment for their work and training," said John Wilste, the director of public affairs of the Connecticut Army National Guard.
The center will serve as the home for several U.S. Army Reserve units as well two Connecticut National Guard units, including the Danbury-based 411th Civil Affairs unit that was the first to move in last week.
1st Sgt. Robert Batal, one of the 30 or more staff members who will be stationed at the center full time, said the facility is a huge improvement over the unit's prior accommodations in Commerce Park.
"We love it," he said. "I've talked to a lot of soldiers who say they are really looking forward now to their weekend drills; it adds to their motivation."
Although neighbors and some city officials voiced objections to the facility when it was first proposed -- in the hopes of preserving some of the farmland as open space -- a compromise was reached through negotiations among the military, the mayor's office and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., when he represented the 5th Congressional District.
While the plans had originally called for a near 150,000-square-foot facility that would have been on what many neighbors call "the meadow," the compromise scaled the project back, reduced the number of units that would be located there, and moved it across the street.
"The end result is as good a result or better than anyone could have hoped for," said City Council member Paul Rotello, one of several Democrats who had urged officials to investigate the possibility of open space preservation on the site. "And while the open space is a separate issue, it's hard to imagine how it could have turned out better."
Murphy, who visited the site several times during the construction phase, said the center is the result of teamwork and collaboration between the community and the military.
"I am thrilled to see this project become a reality," he said. "Our service members deserve a state-of-the-art training facility that gives them the tools to stay safe and complete their mission successfully."
Wiltse noted that besides providing a modern training facility for the military, it also offers the National Guard a base of operations in western Connecticut.
"That can be extremely helpful to the governor and other state agencies who rely on some of the resources that we can provide in a state of emergency," he said.
Guard units have been called up to serve during several emergencies in the state in recent years, including major snow and ice storms as well as Hurricane Sandy.
A dedication ceremony for the center is in the works for next month.
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