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Morris National Guard Armory facelift complete

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

From the outside, the Morris National Guard Armory doesn't appear to be much different after a year-long renovation that cost more than $1 million.

But once inside, especially during an event, the overhaul will be quite evident.

"We already had a nice armory," said Brent Fuhrman, the Guard's Readiness NCO. "Now, it's one of the best in the state. We're fortunate to have it."

New bathroom and shower areas, a more efficient office area, more meeting space and a more flexible main hall are just the most obvious changes.

Anyone wishing to use the space for special events or other functions will notice behind-the-scenes changes that make the 40-year-old building much more comfortable.

• The steam boiler was removed and replace by a hot water heating system.

• A new storage area is being added to complement storage in the armory's main hall.

• New lighting throughout the building will make it brighter and more energy efficient.

• New air exchange and air conditioning will make the building's environment more healthy and pleasant, especially during larger events.

• The men's bathroom and shower areas have been completely overhauled, and a women's bathroom and locker room is being built.

• The office area has been opened up, with cubicles separating work spaces instead of individual offices.

• A board room has been completed, and an exit is being added to a remodeled classroom to allow Guard personnel from out of town to bunk down at the facility when needed.

• A sprinkler system will be installed, and automatic blinds will soon be installed for the large ceiling windows.

• A large display case was built in the armory lobby that will be used to showcase uniforms and other historical items and photographs from the Morris unit's past.

• A new wireless public address system has been installed. Wireless hand-held and lapel microphones are available.

"It will be a lot more comfortable in the summer for weddings and other events," Fuhrman said. "It's more efficient. We'll be able to handle crowds better and we can secure our stuff better when we have events here."

The work also was contracted out to mostly local businesses, he said.

"We had a lot of local contractors involved in the project," Fuhrman said. "It's nice to keep the jobs right here."

A new storage area was added to the building to significantly increase the Guard unit's storage needs. The local unit's mission has changed since the armory was built, meaning the armory needed more storage space and interior renovations to bring it up to code.

The Morris Guard was an infantry unit when the armory opened. It's an artillery unit now, which entails caring for considerably more equipment.

In a cost-cutting move earlier this decade, the Minnesota National Guard ended its practice of having a full-time maintenance person at all armories. For those that had steam boiler heat, that meant at least one of the existing staff members also had to earn a boiler license.

Many of the armories weren't handicapped accessible and didn't meet other current building codes.

While the renovations were underway, current staff traveled to work out of the Ortonville Armory.

Morris-area Guardsmen are on alert for a possible deployment sometime in 2009. But Fuhrman said all efforts will be made to ensure the armory remains open for public use even if the unit is deployed.

"We fully intend to maintain operations here over the next year," he said. "If people want to use it, all they have to do is call."