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Local officials and representatives from the Maryland Army National Guard gathered Wednesday morning for the groundbreaking of a new facility to replace the existing armory.

The new facility, the BG William Smallwood Readiness Center, will be the meeting grounds for the 253rd Engineer Company, which is currently housed in a La Plata facility that dates back to the 1950s. The new center will occupy space on the corner of Rose Hill and Hawthorne roads, just outside town limits, that the county donated for the project and that comes with a $9.28 million price tag. Construction is expected to wrap up next year in time for an October opening.

Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, adjutant general of Maryland, described the new building as “a world-class facility for our world-class soldiers.”

“It’s a great staging area for ... the responders to serve the citizens of Maryland in their time of need,” Adkins said, noting that the National Guard’s duties often go beyond the battlefield and into the community.

In his remarks, La Plata Mayor Roy Hale vowed his town’s continued support even after the move is completed.

“Even though you’ll now be outside La Plata, we’ll always see you as a La Plata unit,” Hale said, noting that the unit “played a major role” in the town’s post-tornado recovery process in 2002.

Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) expressed the board’s support and gratitude for the unit.

“I simply want to thank the National Guard for working so closely with county government,” Robinson said in his remarks. “Most people don’t realize that they’re there until they need them. I am so proud to say that in Charles County, ‘Support the Troops’ is more than just a slogan.”

Robinson said Thursday that the county received the old armory in turn for donating the land for the construction of the new one.

“We don’t know yet what we’re going to do with [the current armory],” Robinson said. “There’s lots of opportunities and possibilities. The building has historical value, so whatever we do, we’ll maintain the current facade.”

Robinson said possibilities include converting the building into a community center or relocating the La Plata branch of the Charles County Public Library there, although he added that the second possibility was not likely.

Adkins said the new armory project has been in the works for about five years and that he hopes the new facility will be able to accommodate the changing times.

“You look at a facility built in the 1950s, and ... the environmental change since then has been substantial,” Adkins said. “We have a great partnership with the town and county, and that’s going to continue.”

Staff Sgt. Daniel Phipps said the new building will be a boon for his unit of 103 people.

“It’ll enhance unit readiness. We’ve been there a while, and it’s fantastic, but it’s getting older,” Phipps said. “It’s limited us as far as storing vehicles and being able to train.”

lrenner@somdnews.com