OSHTEMO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Renovations are coming to the Michigan Army National Kalamazoo Guard Armory, with the goal of making it more equitable for female soldiers.

The Kalamazoo Armory off Parkview Avenue near 11th Street in Oshtemo Township was built in 1977, a time when the large majority of soldiers were men.

“Many of our units were male-only, so you had to be a male to be able to perform or to be able to serve in several of our units,” Brig. Gen. Larry Schloegl, assistant adjutant general and commander of the Michigan Army National Guard, said.

Now, there are 66 women service members stationed at the armory, accounting for about 20% of soldiers. The facilities haven’t kept up with the changing demographics.

“We have over 60 women serving in uniform and there were only four toilets and only two showers. It’s inadequate,” Schloegl said.

In some cases, the limited facilities have affected training.

“We’re trying to maximize our training time and so there’s just delays when we have to coordinate and have fewer facilities for women soldiers,” Maj. Rhonda Black, officer-in-charge at the armory, said.

On Monday, the armory held a ceremonial groundbreaking for a $5.2 million modernization already underway at the 37,615-square-foot armory. The project will increase the number of toilets and showers for women. It will also include the construction of a lactation room, which Black said will accommodate soldiers who are also mothers.

“Being able to not make that choice whether they need to stay (in the National Guard) or not, and they can stay and serve (their country) and serve their family, it’s a great addition,” Black said.

The modernization is funded by a combination of state and federal funding. In Michigan’s 2023 budget, $100 million was earmarked so 33 armories throughout the state could make similar updates.

Schloegl said the upgrades tell women service members they are valued.

“This a once-in-a-lifetime investment and the messaging that this provides to the women soldiers that we have serving is tremendous,” Schloegl said.

In addition to the improvements for women service members, the renovations will add new individual shower units for men and energy enhancements. The building will be expanded by 10,500 square feet. The renovations are expected to be completed in September.