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Lynn Armory planned to house veterans

Lynn, Ma. 4-3-19. The Lynn Armory will be converted to housing for veterans. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Its windows, corridors and labyrinthian basement are dark, but the wheels are turning on plans to fill the Lynn Armory with light and homes for 45 veterans.

Neighborhood Development Associates, Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development’s (LHAND) nonprofit development arm, is assembling financing for the $24 million project, including historic tax credits.

“That will probably be a year process. We know, statewide, the housing crunch is huge,” said LHAND Planning and Development Manager Jeffrey Weeden.

Transforming the fortress-like brick armory on South Common Street into housing will probably take 2-2½ years with the Armory renovated into residential units and common areas. A detailed study of Lynn veterans’ needs, including housing, is underway.

“This development will create much needed housing for veterans living in our community. Working with Gov. Baker, our legislative delegation and Mayor McGee and the City Council, we are aggressively pursuing funding for this historic building. We appreciate the overwhelming support for this development,” said LHAND Executive Director Charles J. Gaeta.

The project’s centerpiece is the cavernous “drill house,”  a three-story gymnasium-like space where National Guard members once lined up in formation on its parquet floors.

Plans call for transforming the big space into 16 “micro unit” residences lining the drill house’s 127-foot-long walls. Another 15 units will be built on a second floor constructed in the drill house. Skylights will be added to the roof and a glass floor will bring light to additional residential units constructed in the armory basement.

An additional nine units will be built in the Armory’s three-story “head house” with its distinctive turrets and the adjacent garage will be converted into six more units.

“We are keeping everything. There will be very small changes to the building’s look,” Weeden said.

Once completed, the renovation will feature an exercise room, meeting rooms, and other areas for residents to socialize in.

The Armory’s history is rooted in the Massachusetts National Guard’s heritage as the home of the 101st Field Artillery, a unit tracing its roots back to the pre-Revolutionary War “South Regiment.”

Last used as a meeting place for local Registry of Motor Vehicle road tests, the Armory ended up on the state’s property list and Lynn’s legislative delegation helped Neighborhood Development Associates take control of the building in January.

Weeden said veterans housing is a long-time LHAND priority with federal officials in 2015 recognizing the agency’s work in eliminating veterans’ homelessness. That achievement dovetailed with efforts by former Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration to place unused state buildings and land under local control.

“We said, ‘What better fit is there for an armory than veterans housing?'” Weeden said.

The 36,000 square foot armory and its garage have plenty of space for parking and rooms where veterans services can be provided steps away from where they live.

Weeden said the study now underway will help identify those services and other specific needs that need to be met for the Armory’s future residents. Resident selection will be done through a lottery, said Weeden.

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