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New rec center could come to Turlocks westside
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Members of the community and the Turlock City Council would like to see the Turlock armory building repurposed for recreational use. - photo by Journal file photo

A new recreation center could be in the future for the westside of Turlock as the Turlock City Council voted to move forward with an initial study on the feasibility of repurposing the National Guard Armory building on Flower Street.

In June, the City received notice from the State Military Department indicating their intent to end their 99-year lease of the National Guard Armory site, located adjacent to Soderquist Baseball Field, effective Dec. 31. According to the lease agreement, the State Military Department must remove all improvements upon ending the lease — which would include demolishing the existing building and 25,000 square feet of parking lot.  The City of Turlock is considering repurposing the facility, however, and an initial City staff walk through looks promising.

"We do think it's worthwhile to take a closer look at this facility," said Allison Van Guilder, director of Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The City Engineering and Building division staff members who inspected the property found the building to be generally in stable condition without any obvious deficiencies. Modernization is needed throughout the building that was constructed in the 1960s, however, including additions to conform to current accessibility requirements, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing facilities are due for upgrades.

The building currently houses offices, conference rooms, a gymnasium, locker room, kitchen and a former indoor shooting range that is now being used as storage.

The City Council approved spending $23,400 on a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and a Phase II assessment, if needed. If those assessments don't show any major problems with the building or property, then the City could move forward with having an architect draw up plans for potential uses, said Van Guilder.

Turlock resident Bob Puffer is hoping the City will consider building a roller rink in the 12,000 square foot armory.

"We used to have a popular roller hockey league," said Puffer.

City Council District 2 candidate Gil Esquer voiced his approval of repurposing the facility.

"Especially in District 2, it's something we could use for the community. I just don't want to see it sold off. I think we could use it," he said.

According to Director Van Guilder, the timing of the State ending their lease couldn't be better, with the Sports and Recreation Facilities Prioritization and Feasibility Study just wrapping up.

"We'll be hearing what the community would like to see," she said of possible new recreation uses for the armory building."

"I think the possibilities are endless," said Council member Bill DeHart. "It's an opportunity for Turlock to have a potential jewel for the westside."

Also on Tuesday, the City Council approved forgoing the formal bid process to purchase 42 self-contained breathing apparatus and associated equipment from Cascade Fire Equipment in the amount of $392,361.

The Council found it was appropriate to purchase the equipment without a formal bid process due to the Turlock Fire Department's imminent need of the equipment — as all the current air tanks will be at the end of their 15-year lifespan come spring 2017 — and Cascade Fire Equipment has agreed to pass on special pricing to the Turlock Fire Department, which results in over $219,000 in savings.

Turlock Fire Captain Casey Cockrell has been working with other fire agencies in the county since 2012 to find the best option in replacing the outdated equipment, as a number of other departments were all facing the same situation with outdated breathing apparatus.

Cockrell said the Turlock Fire Department has put in over 200 hours of maintenance and testing on its older equipment. Even with the maintenance, he said, the equipment just wears out putting firefighters who rely on the apparatus to breathe in hazardous situations.

"They take a beating because that is the nature of the job," said Cockrell of the breathing apparatus.

Mayor Gary Soiseth encouraged the fire department and other city departments to not hesitate to bring issues of health and safety to the city manager and then the Council.

"This council places (health and safety) at a high priority," said Soiseth.