Base-realignment rules hurdle for armory swap|[01/01/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2008

The future of the former Army Reserve armory building near Vicksburg High School remains uncertain, Vicksburg officials said Thursday, but their intent is to transfer ownership, if they receive it, to public schools.

A letter has been sent to U.S. Army’s Baltimore-based regional office that handles base closings under the Department of Defense’s guidelines for closing and realigning military bases across the nation, City Attorney Nancy Thomas said.

The letter’s key question is whether the Army would be agreeable to terminating its lease of the city-owned land on which the armory was built, Thomas said. A complication is a Base-Realignment and Closure rule saying fair market value is to be paid for transfer of any structures.

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Mayor Laurence Leyens and Vicksburg Warren School District attorney Jim Chaney contacted Army lawyers while in Washington, D.C., with other local officials as part of the area’s annual lobbying effort earlier this month.

“It was just sitting in a bureaucratic circle,” Leyens said of the city’s earlier request to resolve the matter.

The two-story brick building at 1000 Lee St. had been eyed to house the Vicksburg High School JROTC for its drill program. However, Leyens said in August the building, vacated by the Army earlier in the summer, would be a key element in the city’s consolidation of vehicle maintenance, workshops and storage in the City Park area. School officials responded that there was at least a verbal agreement that the city would give the building and land to the schools. Leyens then said the city would expect something in return from the schools, payment or an in-kind swap.

When asked Thursday about a possible sale of the armory if the Army deeded it to the city, Leyens said the city would “probably not” ask for a price on it.

“Our intention is to transfer it to the school district,” Leyens said. The city continues to add more shop buildings in the area. While the issue received only scant attention during a school trustees’ meeting Thursday, Superintendent Dr. James Price said swapping maintenance responsibilities with the city on the city pool has come up in negotiations — a notion he said has not gained serious traction.

Price struck a hopeful chord on the pace of talks earlier in the day, but did not rule out paying for the building.

“I don’t expect them to charge $1 million,” Price said, adding the city officials “can change their minds.”

The building was home of the Army Reserve’s 386th Transportation Company before the military vacated the premises.