When Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology officials came to City Hall and asked the city to sell them the former National Guard armory site, Mayor Rick Gray’s answer was “no.”
The armory was an unexpected windfall for the city, but the city needed it badly.
The buildings which had been used to service military vehicles would become a new maintenance garage to replace the city’s crumbling facility.
But, eventually, college officials persuaded Gray an expansion of the technical school was in the best interests of the college and the surrounding neighborhood.
Tuesday evening, City Council will take a step toward selling the four-acre, three-building site at 599 Chesapeake St.
The sale could be completed following the passage of ordinance in two weeks.
The state Department of General Services will pay the city $1 million on behalf of the state-owned college. The city is also receiving $1 million from the Thaddeus Stevens Foundation and a pair of $500,000 state grants.
That money and another $1 million from the city capital budget will go toward building a new city Public Works Operations Center on 17 city-owned acres on Riverside Avenue.
The planned 35,000-foot building will be more efficient than dividing the operations center over four buildings on the Chesapeake Street site, said Public Works Director Charlotte Katzenmoyer.
“It would be cheaper to do it the other way, but it wouldn’t be as good,” Gray told council members at their committee meeting Monday.
Gray emphasized the positive effect of the college expansion on the southeast neighborhood. It will give neighborhood teens a greater chance for a vocational education close to home.
It should also provide greater opportunities for restaurants and shops near the campus, the mayor said.
“The advantages far outweigh the price, in the long run,” said Gray.
The sale and construction of additional facilities will allow the college to expand enrollment.
Plans call for the site to become home to the school’s machine tool and computer-aided manufacturing program, its metals fabrication and welding program and its heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration program.
After the city decided to sell the site, Katzenmoyer undertook a search for an alternate location for the Public Works facility.
The former North Wastewater Treatment Plant site, off Grofftown Road, in Lancaster Township, was the best choice, she said.
The operation center will house about 60 workers from the city’s streets, parks and facilities bureaus and the traffic and sign shop.
Those workers will be coming from three different sites. The consolidation is expected to increase efficiency, she said.
The facility will have vehicle bays for servicing automobiles, fire trucks and public works vehicles; workshops; and office space.
It will include modern systems for venting vehicle exhaust and overhead piping for motor oil and other fluids.
Katzenmoyer said final land development plans will be submitted to Lancaster Township for review next month. She hopes to get approvals, award construction bids and see work begin before the end of the year.
Construction should take one year, she said.
College officials have said they hope to construct new facilities on the Chesapeake Street and open by fall 2015.
The city acquired that property in 2011, about a year after the National Guard opened a new facility near Elizabethtown.
The Chesapeake Street armory was built on city-owned land in 1949. A clause in the deed required the land to be returned to the city if the guard ever stopped using the site.
College officials approached the city about selling the property in early 2012.