SMITHFIELD, N.C. — Historical photographs of Smithfield's National Guard armory depict the pomp of a 1965 gala held to celebrate the centennial of the Battle of Bentonville: couples pausing for photographs in Civil-War era fashion, while powerful-looking men in tuxedos schmooze with North Carolina's "country lawyer" Sen. Sam Ervin.
But in the background of the party, the photos show the building much as it exists today, a plain concrete drill hall surrounded by a few offices and classrooms, decorated only the banners of the units stationed there.
The Smithfield armory is like thousands of others built in the decades surrounding World War II, small and simple buildings often utilized to host the Boy Scouts, community activities, dances and weddings.
But with maintenance costs on older buildings rising and the military drawing down from two wars, the National Guard has directed states to make their network of facilities more efficient. Many states like North Carolina are looking for money to construct larger regional hubs while trimming costs by consolidating older units.
The North Carolina Guard announced in 2013 plans to build eight hubs, known as Regional Readiness Centers, but funding has not yet been approved and officials have not said how many of the states' 91 armories might be closed.
North Carolina recently sold two armories back to local governments, and the state has plans to close a third. Across the country, the National Guard said in 2014 two-thirds of facilities were in poor or failing condition, and proposed to close 600 locations out of more than 2,100.
"It's kind of like chopping off the finger of a community," said Mike Waite, the legislative director for the National Guard Association in Washington. "But that's just the realities, the Army is getting smaller and we are getting smaller."
Guard officials in North Carolina said a shift toward regional hubs would help alleviate the burdens affecting the force that is short about 2 million square feet of space.
Officers who spoke to The Associated Press described having to cram the larger modern equipment used by the Army into small storage spaces built decades ago. Demographic changes have also meant an increasing number of troops have to drive long distances to reach their units on drill weekends.
"You had guys who enlisted in that unit and stayed in that unit their whole lives," said Lt. Col. Rodney Newton, a construction maintenance manager for the Guard in North Carolina.
Now, Newton said, troops who are promoted often have to be relocated to another armory where there is a spot for their position, sometimes across the state. By building larger regional hubs, Newton hoped, the Guard could cut down on commutes for troops.
Lt. Col. Matt Devivo, a spokesman for the North Carolina Guard, said the state has focused on maintenance for its newer and better equipped armories that can support more troops and have better facilities to show off to new recruits. The state Guard is conducting or planning 24 capital improvement projects at 17 sites, at a cost of $8 million to the state and $21 million to the federal government.
At the same time, the states' older armories are often left to make do with what they have.
When the boiler at the Smithfield armory broke several years ago, rather than replace it, the Guard installed space heaters from the ceiling. During the summer, window air conditioners are used to cool the offices and classrooms while the drill hall simmers.
Devivo said the regional hubs, at up to 100 acres, would be able to house thousands of troops and include facilities such as firing ranges that units now have to travel to military bases to use.
While the hubs would be open to public events, Devivo said it was likely they would hold drills several weekends a month. The hubs could also host cross-training exercises with local law enforcement, he said.