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Corbett to sign bill allowing sale of Pa. armories

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 8:45 p.m.

HARRISBURG — The state is looking for buyers for 11 former Pennsylvania National Guard armories and a former firing range as part of a statewide effort to unload obsolete but historically significant facilities that taxpayers pay to maintain.

Legislation authorizing the sale of the dozen properties, as well as already-begun conveyances of several other guard facilities to new owners including municipal agencies and nonprofit groups, was unanimously approved in both chambers of the General Assembly. Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign the bills, spokeswoman Janet Kelley said Tuesday.

The armories were primarily used for training guard units and have been displaced by more modern facilities. The parcels being offered for sale include Scranton's castlelike, 60,000-square-foot Watres armory and large armories in Altoona and Lancaster. The others are in Blair, Centre, Columbia, Elk, Franklin, Huntingdon, McKean and Northumberland counties. A weekend training site in Elk County that was used mainly for target practice also is in the group.

“We had no military mission for those facilities anymore,” said Mark Austin, deputy secretary for facilities and engineering in the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, adding that planning for the disposition of the properties began more than three years ago.

Prospective buyers will be allowed a 20 percent discount on each parcel's market value if they agree to preserve the exterior facades of the buildings for 25 years under a covenant with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. They also may qualify for federal and state tax credits. All 11 armories are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Preliminary estimates put the combined value of the properties at nearly $6 million, but the legislation authorizes additional appraisals that may push those figures higher or lower, said Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Department of General Services, which acts as the state government's real-estate broker and portfolio manager.

To protect the value of state-owned buildings that are declared surplus, the DGS is required to provide maintenance that includes utilities and security as well as the grounds outside, Thompson said.

At the armories that are up for sale, taxpayers pay more than $250,000 a year on average for utilities, according to fact sheets on the facilities.

The five guard facilities already being conveyed to new owners are armories in Philadelphia, West Chester, Bethlehem and Gettysburg, and a former maintenance shop in Scranton, Austin said.

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