Jackson County

$4.5 million armory expansion is ‘beautiful addition’ to fairground area

The addition to the Mississippi Army National Guard Readiness Center in Pascagoula is in the final stages of completion, one of the biggest construction projects in the county completed this year.
The addition to the Mississippi Army National Guard Readiness Center in Pascagoula is in the final stages of completion, one of the biggest construction projects in the county completed this year. klnelson@sunherald.com

The final punch-list inspection is complete on one of the nicest-looking new buildings in east Jackson County.

The $4.5 million addition to the Mississippi National Guard Readiness Center, just north of the Singing River Hospital, looks like the entrance to a college.

“It’s a beautiful addition to the county fairgrounds area,” county Board of Supervisors President Melton Harris said, “nice for Jackson County and District 2 as well.”

The project looks like a completely new building, but is actually a 12,000- to 14,000-square-foot front section on a building that was originally 12,000 square feet. The old armory was a popular building, used for senior citizen events, building Mardi Gras floats and voting, including the massive union votes held for Ingalls Shipbuilding employees during contract negotiations.

Col. Paul McDonald, construction and management officer with the Mississippi Military Department, spoke with the Sun Herald last week.

The equipment has changed and the amount of equipment fielded to the soldier and the unit has increased.

Col. Paul McDonald, construction and management officer, Mississippi Military Department

What’s left to do is the acceptance of the building from the contractor, furnishing and the parking lot out front.

There is new fencing for vehicle storage in back and an amazing array of rooms and storage lockers for the needs of modern reservists and their equipment.

Needs have changed

McDonald said the Pascagoula Readiness Center was badly in need of upgrades.

The project has been in progress for at least two years, Harris said. And the county is awaiting word that it is, at last, finished.

McDonald said it could be spring before before the front is landscaped and the parking lot built and paved.

In the construction, “we added administrative offices, classroom, locker rooms, showers, restrooms, supply and storage.”

He said the original building was a model developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

“Types of units and space allowances have changed and federal requirements have grown due to technology,” he said. “In the ’50s and ’60s, they didn’t have computer systems or the need for classrooms.”

The needs and personal equipment of the volunteer force has changed, too.

“The National Guard has more and more been involved in the nation’s conflicts,” he said. “The equipment has changed and the amount of equipment fielded to the soldier and the unit has increased.”

There is now storage on the south side of the building with individual lockers.

A soldier now carries two duffel bags with Kevlar helmets, protective vests and normal field gear such as canteens, he said.

Only county with 2 armories

It’s built for the volunteer reservists for weekend training, but the armory commander likely will work closely with the community for use during off weekends.

“Throughout the state, armories are used for everything from school dances to gun and knife shows,” McDonald said. He’s seen one used for a wedding and even a circus.

The marquee in front of the Pascagoula armory belongs to the county fairgrounds, however, which could lead to some confusion about coming events at the armory.

“We’re proud of it,” Harris said of the addition. “It’s definitely an asset for the county.”

There are 79 armories in Mississippi, which has 82 counties.

And Jackson County has two — this one and one in St. Martin.

That’s rare, McDonald said, “Most have one and some have none.”

The one in St. Martin was moved there from Biloxi after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, when officials couldn’t find property available in Biloxi.

Armories today serve a community within a 40- to 50-mile radius, he said.

Soldiers go to the armory with the jobs and skills they want, he said. For a promotion, they may take a transfer to another unit.

But the average drive to drill is a little more than 60 miles.

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