Bright Idea: Need New Space? Consider Renovating an Old One Instead!

Photograph of the converted National Guard Armory building in Hagerstown, Maryland.

You’re looking for a new location. Maybe you’ve outgrown the old space, or maybe you’re starting something fresh. Real estate prices are too high. Conventional locations aren’t big enough, or just don’t suit your needs. Have you considered renovating a historical building? Way Station, a community-based mental health program in Frederick, MD, did just that.

“We were looking for a property that met some specifications: fairly accessible, downtown, public transportation,” says Anne Rea, Way Station’s director of operations. “There weren’t vacant lots to be able to build.” The only choice was to look at changing an existing building to suit the organization’s needs.

The 90-year-old National Guard Armory in Hagerstown, MD, is a two-story brick building that looks like a medieval fort. It stands literally around the corner from Way Station’s old site, and had remained empty for over a decade. A new owner had begun renovations, but couldn’t find tenants who could make a long enough commitment to justify a complete buildout.

“We got better prices because of timing and economy,” Rea says. “The purchase price of the property reflected the economy, so that was as cost effective as it could have been. Also, there are no property taxes because we are a non-profit, tax-exempt organization.”

Way Station needed to renovate and divide the space, which had a few offices, the original guard structure, a gym, and a garage. Contractors divided the gym into additional offices, and put down new flooring that can be removed if a future owner wants to use the space for its original purpose. In the back of the building, they built a floor above the garage with more offices.

“Our dream was that there would be lots of room for expansion, and the Armory has over two times more square footage than what we had before,” says Rea.

The renovation was not without challenges. Because of the age of the building, for example, they needed to do asbestos removal and abatement. Rea says, “It’s a unique structure. When you do a project like this, even when you know there are going to be hiccups, there will often be more hiccups.”

The renovation took a year to complete, but an excited staff moved into their modern-day fort in February. 

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