The facility is expected to house more than 250 soldiers.
After more than a decade of preparation and waiting, the Florida Army National Guard on Oct. 14 broke ground on the site of its new Army Readiness Center at the Flagler County Executive Airport.
The 76,708 square foot facility will be built on 34 acres, and will house about about 25 permanent staff members, and more than 250 soldiers for weekend training. It will replace the Daytona Beach armory, which was built in 1964.
“This is great to have these kinds of resources here, and it was really great this weekend to enjoy your presence with us during this disaster,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said, addressing the soldiers during the groundbreaking ceremony. “I feel like we had a very negative kind of hurricane come through, and now we’re kind of having a positive hurricane come through with the Army National Guard here. I couldn’t ask for a better group to come through.”
Construction of the new Flagler Palm Coast Army Readiness Center has been estimated at $22 million to $23 million. It will house reservists and Florida National Guard units including the 1-265th Air Defense Artillery Battalion. Plans for the building have been complete for years, but the National Guard has been waiting on federal money to start construction, and in the meantime has been leasing a smaller, 19,100-square-foot building at the former Embry-Riddle Commercial Airline Pilot Training program hangar behind the airport.
Speaking at the ceremony, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis lauded National Guard soldiers’ efforts to respond to Hurricane Matthew. The National Guard protected bridges to the barrier island during closures and distributed food to residents at the airport.
“We saw recently with this storm, the images are stuck in my mind of the highways being clogged to get out of Dodge,” DeSantis said. “But yet on the other side of the highway, going the other direction, we saw our National Guard answering the call when it’s most difficult.”
Florida Rep. Paul Renner noted that “there are Guardsmen blanketed all over the state of Florida in time of need,” and said the soldiers’ willingness to enter areas others are fleeing reminded him of one of his “favorite descriptions of public service,” the biblical passage of Isaiah 6:8 in which the Prophet Isaiah hears God say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and Isaiah, accepting his prophethood, responds, “Here am I, send me.”
County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, speaking after the ceremony, lauded the manner in which Flagler County and city of Palm Coast staff and officials worked together to bring the facility to Flagler.
“This is the result of that relationship being as effective as it is,” he said. “We’re so excited. And the economic impact at this point is immeasurable, but it will prove itself out in coming years.”
County Commissioner Barbara Revels said the National Guard soldiers are the kinds of people residents want as neighbors.
“You couldn’t ask for a better company to come to town,” she said. “These are people you want to be your neighbors and your friends, and the workmen in your community. It’s one of the biggest hits we could have.