Earlier this month, the Chestertown Historic District Commission agreed to the demolition of the Chestertown Armory Building, which is listed on National Registry of Historic Places. I was dismayed to hear that the Chestertown Town Council confirmed this decision at their most recent meeting. These decisions were at the request of the owner, Washington College, who stated that there are significant environmental issues affecting the building that cannot be corrected.
I have read the report that Washington College presented to the Town and based on my professional experience (20 years of managing federal office buildings) all of the issues in the report are normal issues that you find in most older buildings and can be easily fixed. The report outlines that the building “suffers” from three issues: lead-based paint, asbestos, and mold.
Almost all buildings older than 1978 (i.e., most of Chestertown), probably have lead-based paint in them. That was the year that household paint with lead was banned. The easiest fix to eliminate this hazard is to just paint over it and just leave it alone (known as encapsulation). In some cases, if you do have to remove it, wearing protective equipment and disposing of the waste appropriately is required – a standard process.
The asbestos discussed in the report was predominantly in the floor tiles that are throughout the building. There are numerous buildings of this era that have the same floor tiles, including a major federal office building that I once managed. That federal building had thousands of square feet of asbestos-containing tiles that were walked on by thousands of people per day. There was no risk because the asbestos was not being released the air or otherwise known as “friable” asbestos. Nowhere in the Washington College environmental report could I find the word “friable,” so the risk from these floor tiles is minimal. These asbestos floor tiles can either be left alone or encapsulated with another layer of flooring (e.g, carpet or tile).
Finally, they report that there is mold in the building. Mold growth in that building is due to not properly maintaining humidity levels in the building while it was unoccupied. The environmental report did not attempt to identify the type of mold, which makes a big difference when it comes to determining the impact on human health (remember that harmless, but tasty, veins in blue cheese is mold!). Regardless, mold remediation is easy to undertake especially when you are going to be tearing out walls and ceilings to convert the property to a hotel or conference center.
Other towns on the Eastern Shore have converted their armory buildings to useful purposes. For example, Centreville has a school in theirs and Easton uses theirs for community events.
When I moved to the historic district of Chestertown in 2016, I understood that it was my civic responsibility to maintain the historic property that I purchased just like generations before me had done. Having a vibrant historic district requires hard work on all our parts and is what makes Chestertown so special. The Armory building is as much a part of Chestertown’s heritage as, for example, the Customs House and Widehall are. Renovating the Armory in its current form would make a distinctive and welcome landmark property, adding to the Town’s ambiance.
It is not too late to undo this mistake. I would urge those who agree with me in preserving the historic legacy to contact the Mayor and Town Council or to attend their next meeting to let them know that tearing down the Chestertown Amory is a wrong decision.
Save the Chestertown Armory!
Steven R. Mitchell