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Veterans band together in effort to acquire armory

PINE GROVE, Pa. — Local veterans are working to form a nonprofit organization in an effort to buy the state armory in the borough's downtown and turn it into a community center.

"We're in the process right now of becoming a 501(c)3 organization and we're going to form a board so we can maintain that status," Russell N. Stump, 66, vice commander of Pine Grove American Legion Post 374, said Thursday.

State Rep. Mike Tobash, R-125, said Thursday that he's considered sponsoring a bill to put the two-story, red brick, castle-like office building at 143 S. Tulpehocken St. on the market. But before moving on that, he wants to see if the local veterans can organize and find the funding to turn it into a community center.

"I try to keep in close contact with those guys and I'd like to see how this pans out. That armory is part of the community down there and I want to make sure the community has every opportunity to maintain that building in some fashion," Tobash said.

For many years, Pennsylvania National Guard D Company 228th Brigade Support Battalion had its headquarters at the armory. In early November, the battalion relocated to the Hershey Readiness Center, according to Wesley E. Craig, adjutant general for the Pennsylvania National Guard.

The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs plans to put the building up for sale for $135,000, according to a letter Craig sent to Tobash on Sept. 9.

Earlier this year, Gilbert "Dusty" Durand II, director of Policy and Legislative Affairs at the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, asked Tobash to sponsor a bill to put the armory on the market.

Tobash turned to local veterans for their views on the matter and representatives of two local veterans groups - American Legion Post 374 and VFW Pine Grove Post 3432 - decided to make an effort to acquire the building.

In October, Stump contacted Durand to discuss options.

In an email dated Oct. 22, Durand told Stump the veterans wouldn't be able to buy the building for $1.

"In order to maximize grant, donations and fundraising opportunities, the best way to gather support is to register as a charity with the Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Charitable Organizations and obtain a 501(c) tax exempt designation letter from the IRS. Another option would be to work with another local, existing 501(c)3 if one exists and is willing to lend its full support to this project," Durand said in the letter.

Stump said the tentative name of the nonprofit organization he and area veterans are forming is "The Friends of Company B Heraldry Association."

"Because we're going be a nonprofit, we might be able to get it at a reduced price. Our fingers are crossed," Stump said.

The armory was built in 1909, after a former armory was destroyed by fire, according to "History of Pine Grove, Pennsylvania" published in 1935.

It was built with money that was appropriated by the state on a lot on the corner of Tulpehocken and Mill Streets, according to the history.

The "State Armory" was dedicated with a parade on the afternoon of Friday, May 28, 1909, according to the archives of The Pottsville Republican.

When the building was built back in 1908, the total cost of the project came to $14,347.87, according to Stump.

These days, that's close to what it costs to heat and maintain the building per year, Stump said. On Thursday, he estimated it would cost $12,000 a year for upkeep.

Stump said he and local veterans are in the process of forming a board of directors for their nonprofit group and they're looking into writing applications for grants.
 

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