A crowd of hundreds attended the grand opening of the Georgia Army National Guard’s Regional Readiness Center in Cumming on Saturday.
The facility opened to Guardsmen in April and has held tours for some small groups since then, but Saturday was the first chance for the community to come together to welcome the armory.
The 104,000-square-foot facility, located on Aquatic Circle off Pilgrim Mill Road near Ga. 400 at Exit 16, boosts a 300-seat auditorium, a 5,000-square-foot cafeteria, several classrooms and a library space, among other features.
During Saturday’s festivities, visitors could tour the facility and talk with Guardsmen about their duties.
Many of them worked at demonstration areas where children could experience what it’s like to serve through activities such as looking through telescopic equipment and target shooting.
Ann Teasley brought her 7- and 5-year-old sons, Drew and Dylan.
“We have two boys, so we thought it would be neat to bring them here since they’re interested in a lot of the equipment the military uses,” she said. “They’re having a lot of fun.”
Sam Siemon came with 5-year-old daughter Ava.
“We’re excited to have the new armory as part of our community and we wanted to come out and see what was going on over here,” he said, noting that Ava had enjoyed many of the activities provided by the Guardsmen.
“She got to hold an M-4 assault rifle and she thought that was exciting. I’m not sure how excited her mom will be about the picture, but she had fun.”
The day’s festivities also included an official ribbon cutting ceremony for the facility, which cost about $26 million to build, with 75 percent of that funding coming from the federal government and the remainder from state sources.
The city of Cumming donated the 12 acres on which the armory sits.
Leaders of the Georgia National Guard spoke during the ceremony, along with local dignitaries including Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and state Sen. Jack Murphy.
According to Gravitt, the project had been in the works for about five years. He recalled how he and other city leaders were approached about having an armory in the city.
A much smaller armory was housed for several years in an old CVS Pharmacy building on Hwy. 20.
The new center replaced that building, which was less than one-third the size of the new armory.
“We’re very honored and happy to have this great facility here on the banks of Lake Lanier, between Exit 15 and 16 of Ga. 400, overlooking Sawnee Mountain,” Gravitt said. “We think it’s a beautiful location.”
Murphy noted that funding for the facility remained in place through political change.
“The state contributed a little more than $6 million and one of the amazing things about our contribution is that funding survived two presidential administrations, it survived two governors in the state of Georgia … so that’s amazing,” he said.
Both Gravitt and Murphy thanked the National Guardsmen who will be working out of the center, which on drill weekends will see as many as 300 soliders.
“I can’t say enough about the gratitude that we owe them and gratitude that I owe them,” Murphy said.
Added Gravitt: “We certainly appreciate the great job that you do in defending the country, our freedom, every day.”