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Stillwater getting new armory, fire station

A $20 million National Guard armory for part of the Red Bull division will be built in Stillwater, replacing a 92-year-old building downtown.

The new facility for the 1st/34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion will be on 18 acres of city-owned land at the northwest corner of Washington County 12 and Boutwell Road; the land also will house a new $7 million Stillwater fire station.

City officials and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., announced at an event Wednesday at Stillwater City Hall that President Barack Obama signed off on $17 million in federal funding for the new armory. The other $3 million will come from the state of Minnesota, said Col. Larry Herke, construction and facilities management officer for the Minnesota National Guard.

"This is a big win for the state of Minnesota for our citizen soldiers," McCollum said. "I know the backlog that is out there, and I know how these projects get funded. They get in a queue, but in order to move in the queue, you have to show strong public commitment. Stillwater did that, the state of Minnesota did that."

The armory will employ 26 to 28 people full time and host 180 soldiers two weekends a month, Herke said. Studies have shown the economic impact of the new armory could be $6 million a year or more.

The 79,000-square-foot, two-story site will include an auditorium, classrooms, kitchen, fitness area, locker rooms, administrative spaces and a space that will be used for simulated marksmanship training, Herke said. About 12,000 square feet will be open to the public.

The Guard expects to go out for bids in March and begin construction in May. Construction should be finished in November 2015, with soldiers moving in early in 2016.

Most of the Red Bull unit was moved to Bloomington in 2005 because it outgrew the 27,000-square-foot armory in downtown Stillwater. The old armory, built in 1922, is now home to the 34th Military Police Company.

After the new armory is built, the old one will be sold with the city having the right of first refusal, Herke said.

Now that the project is a go, Stillwater can begin finalizing plans for a new fire station -- an item that has been on its wish list for years.

The current station at City Hall has not been centrally located since the western part of the city was developed, and response times are below levels recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, said Fire Chief Stuart Glaser.

"We'll be able to get to the entire city within six minutes," Glaser said. "Right now, from here out to (the) Liberty or Legends (housing developments), it's about nine minutes. This is going to centralize it and make it equal throughout the entire city."

The new station will be 24,000 square feet. "We are in dire need of additional apparatus bay space, and we will definitely improve our training capabilities out there," he said.

Co-locating with the armory will enable use of shared space for workouts and training, cooking and dining, and parking.

The Stillwater police will expand into the fire department's space once the new fire station is built, said Police Chief John Gannaway. The $2 million remodel will provide the department with a new public entrance and about 12,000 square feet, doubling the current footprint.

"We'll no longer be in substandard conditions," Gannaway said. "If you look out in the parking lot, all of our police cars are outside. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars of equipment in those squads. They're subjected to the elements. They will all go inside; it's a perfect fit for all of our squad cars."

Glaser said he did not yet know when the big move might take place.

"The sooner, the better. Then we'll all be happy," he said. "New armory. New fire station. New bridge. 2016 is going to be a big year. You'd better stick around."

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