State and local officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday for the new $26-million Readiness Center at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in southeast Iowa. Work on the project began about a month ago, and also includes a field maintenance shop. Iowa National Guard spokesman, Colonel Greg Hapgood, says the new facility will replace a pair of existing buildings in Des Moines County.

Hapgood says the new building allows the Iowa Army National Guard and the Army Reserve to work in one brand new facility while closing the older buildings. Hapgood says the two buildings being replaces are each more than 60 years old. He says plans are to close them both by 2012.

Hapgood says they will be able to house, train and provide better storage facilities for the soldiers, and they will also be able to provide the maintenance facilities to inspect, fix and wash equipment — a luxury he says they don’t have now. The Base Closure and Realignment Commission approved the money for the facility in 2005, but funding was delayed until last year.

Congressman Dave Loebsack, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, is on the Armed Forces Committee, and attended the groundbreaking. Loebsack says the main goal is to make sure the troops are ready with training and equipment for foreign and domestic missions. The readiness center will contain a 7,500 square foot assembly hall, full kitchen, multi-purpose classrooms, weapons simulation facility, fitness facility, storage and administrative space for all assigned soldiers, and parking for 198 vehicles.

The Middletown Field Maintenance Shop includes approximately 33,500 square feet, with eight work bays, one wash bay, communications and electronics repair facilities, a multi-purpose classroom/training facility, and parking for 28 vehicles.

The Iowa National Guard dedicated a new $17-million Readiness Center in Iowa City in May. Funding was also approved for similar projects in Muscatine and Cedar Rapids. The completion date for the new facility in Middletown is set for September 2011.

Michael Cation, KBUR, Burlington