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Navy building boom

While the specter of the 2005 announcement of the Base Realignment and Closure list looms over every military base in Washington, it’s full speed ahead at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, which has undertaken more than $32 million worth of improvements in the past year.

“BRAC is an off limits subject for us,” Ensign Mike Grose, resident officer in charge of construction, said recently. Base personnel, including base commanding officer Capt. Stephen Black, are not supposed to talk about the future of the base, or its chances for surviving the next round of base closures. But, the work at Whidbey speaks for itself.

Major projects currently underway at the base include:

l Hot pit runway refueling area, $7.3 million

l Restructuring of entry gates and a new pass house, $6.9 million

l Aviation Survival Training Center, $4.4 million

l New air traffic control tower, $3.4 million

l Waste water treatment plant upgrades, $4.9 million

l New Youth Center, $3.4 million

l Retrofitting of the flight simulator building, $3 million

l Repairs to Outlying Field, $2.2 million

l CPO Club new kitchen and parking lot, $500,000

l Housing upgrades, $424,000

l Base command building infrastructure upgrades, $300,000

The four-lane hot pit refueling station will enable pilots to taxi up to the pumps, rather than having a tanker truck come to them. While this is the most expensive item on the list, the most visibly impressive is the new control tower.

The 156 foot tall blue and white structure will replace the current 1940’s vintage tower, which is considerably shorter.

The project has been under construction by contractor Chung and Associates of Salt Lake City, Utah, since July, but most of that has been work done underground, sinking pilings deep enough to support the tall thin structure.

The steel framework was delivered the first of March, and the structure quickly took shape from there. Within three days, workers had the framework up to 80 feet. The structure will be 136 feet, with another 20 feet of light pole on top of that.

Lt. j.g. Dan Muller, also a resident officer in charge of construction, said the new tower was needed to compensate for “blind spots” on the runway that couldn’t be seen from the current tower. He said the main runways used now were built after the first tower was in place.

“The tower had to be upgraded to meet our mission,” he said, “and to modernize.”

The new tower is expected to be operational by October.

While that is welcome news to the Whidbey Naval pilots who use the runway on a daily basis, Muller said the biggest advantage to the air traffic controllers is that the new structure has an elevator and restrooms.

As with the old tower, four controllers per shift can work in the tower, and the new facility can also house up to four trainees.

Military families and friends will appreciate the new Whidbey Island Youth Center being built in the Victory Park/Rock Hill Terrace area. The old center, a 1942-vintage wooden, 4,000 square foot building along Regatta Drive, will be replaced by a spacious and light-filled 14,000 square foot structure.

The center will have several general purpose rooms, classrooms, outdoor covered sports court, play area, computer room and a game room complete with pool table, foosball, and a large screen TV. Capacity will increase from 75 to more than 300.

Ground was broken on the project in February, with completion expected by August.

The base upgrade that has undoubtedly affected everyone the most are the gate redesigns to meet current security standards.

Post Sept. 11, the base placed concrete jersey barriers at every gate to slow down entering vehicles, and built concrete and sandbag bunkers manned by security guards with rifles. Congestion could be fierce, especially at the main gate, where cars jammed up trying to enter or exit the pass house parking lot.

The new gate configurations will feature a more serpentine design, Muller said, also designed to slow traffic and prevent vehicles from speeding through the gate. A new pass house has been opened at the main gate, set farther back from traffic and with a larger parking lot. Work on the gates is expected to be completed by July.

Grose said it’s hard to estimate how this past year compared to others as far as construction at the base.

“Victory Housing was huge (completed two years ago), but there’s a lot going on now too,” he said.

Projects on the future wish list include further renovations of base barracks, renovation of a hangar and expanding the fire station.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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