AUGUSTA — Some operations and most of the people at Camp Keyes could move to a proposed $30 million Maine National Guard Joint Force Headquarters that would be built off Civic Center Drive.

Construction of the headquarters on 43 acres adjacent to the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery could start as soon as spring 2014 and take 18 months to two years to complete, according to Lt. Col. Dwaine Drummond, director facilities and engineering for the Maine National Guard.

As part of the move, about 300 employees — most of the headquarters staff — would move from Camp Keyes, near the Augusta State Airport, to the new building.

More industrial, visible functions of Camp Keyes would remain at the current site, including vehicle maintenance. Drummond said the Guard plans to retain all or most of the Camp Keyes property for now.

“Camp Keyes won’t look a lot different,” Drummond said. The new location “is really the headquarters building, for the administrative functions of the Army and Air Guard, the organizational backbone of the Guard. The adjutant general and his staff would move up there, as well as the Air National Guard unit attached to the Joint Force Headquarters. The more industrial-type activities would stay at Camp Keyes.”

Drummond said the 2015 federal budget includes funding for the project.

He said a major reason for the move is that most of the buildings at Camp Keyes are old, wood-frame buildings that are hard to maintain and heat.

The new headquarters would meet current building, fire, and Americans with Disabilities Act codes. It also would meet security and anti-terrorism standards with larger setbacks that can’t be accommodated at the existing headquarters at Camp Keyes.

The headquarters would be built on state-owned land, which a 242-page environmental assessment of the project says is excess land now part of the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery, between Civic Center Drive and the cemetery. The site, which is next to the cemetery entrance, is heavily wooded. Four houses are between the site and Civic Center Drive, three of which are for sale.

Drummond said the Guard’s current plans are to retain the Camp Keyes property but demolish some of the older buildings there.

Airport expansion unlikely

The city has long eyed the Camp Keyes property as a potential way to expand the adjacent airport, which the city runs and the state owns. Airport Road separates the airport and Camp Keyes.

Airport Manager John Guimond said the Guard’s move of some operations out of Camp Keyes probably won’t free up enough space for the airport to expand.

“A building here or there (being removed) doesn’t provide much benefit to the airport,” Guimond said. “Unless there is a whole chunk or corner we could take, enough to move a portion of Airport Road and give us a better flow of traffic and parking, it doesn’t really help the airport. My understanding is they’re not shrinking the footprint.”

Guimond said the airport’s 20-year master plan includes expansion plans, should the Guard leave and the Camp Keyes spot became available. He said an expanded airport could allow for more much-needed hangar space and room for aviation-related businesses.

“It’d be nice to have something where we could attract aviation businesses, stuff like that, but that’s nothing I see in the foreseeable future,” said Guimond, a city employee.

Jeffrey Bilodeau, a city councilor who also works at Camp Keyes as a member of the Maine National Guard, recently updated the city’s Airport Advisory Committee, of which he is chairman, on the Guard’s plans to move some operations from the site, Guimond said.

Approvals still needed

Drummond said the Civic Center Drive site was attractive as the new headquarters location because of its proximity to Interstate 95, the fact that it is relatively flat and easy to build on, the amount of available space, and the fact that it was already owned by the government, so additional funding wasn’t needed to buy land.

As assessment of the headquarters’ needs indicate the new headquarters would need to be more than 100,000 square feet.

Other sites considered but rejected for the new facility included Camp Keyes, the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus and a rural Guard training site in West Gardiner.

He said the site would be primarily administrative space, probably with a cafeteria and an auditorium, and would not include training areas such as a firing range.

Drummond said the project is still in the design phase and still need permits and National Guard approvals.

He said a signalized intersection might be built, and the entrance might be realigned with Darin Drive, which is on the opposite side of Civic Center Drive, to accommodate the project and help minimize traffic congestion.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]