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Navy to raze 69 buildings on Whidbey

Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian McGarrigle strolls by Hangar 1 on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s Ault Field Base. The historic, 68-year-old structure is on a list of 69 buildings that base officials have proposed to demolish.  - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian McGarrigle strolls by Hangar 1 on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s Ault Field Base. The historic, 68-year-old structure is on a list of 69 buildings that base officials have proposed to demolish.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

The Navy has proposed to demolish 69 buildings at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station that are considered underutilized, excess or obsolete under a draft environmental assessment.

The targeted buildings are on both the Ault Field and Seaplane bases. They range from a tiny “toilet building” to Hangar 1, the last remaining World War II-era hangar at Ault Field. For Oak Harbor residents, arguably the most visible structure on the demolition list is Building 27, the radar simulation building. It’s the structure with the giant, white ball on the top that sits on a hill overlooking the Seaplane Base.

In fact, the hangar, the radar simulation building and 19 other buildings on the demolition roll are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historical Places.

The draft assessment concludes that the proposed demolitions wouldn’t have significant impacts on the environment, but they would have “an adverse effect” on historic properties. The Navy and the state Historical Preservation Officer worked out a memorandum of agreement to mitigate the impacts of razing historical buildings. The Navy will have to create dioramas of a few historic buildings, obtain oral history interviews and meet other conditions.

According to the assessment, the purpose of the “proposed action” to demolish 69 buildings is a cost-savings measure to comply with Commander, Navy Installations Command Demolition Footprint Reduction Program and the 2007 Defense Installations Strategic Plan.

“Facility sustainment, restoration, and modernization are crucial to managing the overall size and quality of inventory and to ensure that only essential operating costs are incurred,” the document states. “Implementation of the Proposed Action would make it more cost effective to sustain, repair, and modernize existing inventories rather than construct new facilities.”

Kim Martin, public affairs officer at the base, said Navy officials couldn’t answer any questions about the cost of the demolition projects or the cost savings because the plan is still a draft.

The assessment states that the demolition work would begin this year if the plan is approved. The proposal would remove 265,600 square feet of building footprint and a total of 346,482 square feet of building space at the Ault Field and Seaplane bases.

Also, 16,500 square feet of pavement in parking areas and roadway would be removed from the Seaplane Base, as would 1,050 feet of fencing. After the demolition, about seven acres would be returned to a natural, grass-dominated habitat.

The Navy proposes to demolish 34 buildings on the Ault Field Base and 35 on the Seaplane Base.

Hangar 1 is the most historically significant building that will be razed under the draft. Built in 1942, the aircraft maintenance hangar is “a rare example of a wood-framed, bowstring truss-roofed hangar with a high level of historical physical integrity,” the draft states. The building has asbestos cladding, a rolled asphalt roof and retains its original wood doors.

With the retiring of the EA-6B Prowlers, Hangar 1 is no longer needed after 2012. Also, it is in the middle of the redesigned flight line.

NAS Whidbey Island conducted an in-depth study to evaluate the costs of moving and reusing Hanger 1 as a museum, a recreational facility, vehicle storage, a warehouse or commercial space. But the studies concluded that none of these options were needed or workable.

Under the memorandum of agreement, the Navy would have to complete several measures to preserve the history of Hangar 1. The requirements include a historic building survey, at least one oral history interview, construction of a diorama, preservation of a portion of the roof truss, creation of a 3-D model of the hangar, and the establishment of a Web site to allow public access to the model.

Building 27, the prominent structure with a radar dome, was built in 1942 as a seaplane control tower and flight operations building at Seaplane Base and is located on high ground overlooking the base and Crescent Harbor. It is a two-story, concrete-block building with Art Moderne architectural elements. Around 1982, the building’s original glass-enclosed control tower was replaced with the current radar dome, which is no longer used, according to the draft.

Under the agreement with the state preservation officer, the Navy agreed to evaluate re-use opportunities for the radar building before taking it down.

Building 12, located on Pioneer Way, is a 1942 concrete block buildings that houses administrative and public works facilities. Only the 1943 addition to the building would be demolished under the draft plan.

The aging buildings on the list have a lot of problems. Ventilation ranges from inadequate to nonexistent in the majority of structures. Many do not comply with fire codes. Many likely contain asbestos, lead paint and PBCs.

The draft assessment indicates that at least a couple of large buildings may be constructed at the base to house departments or activities currently in structures slated for demolition. A 40,400-square-foot building is proposed to be built on the Ault Field Base in 2012. It would consolidate administrative departments that are currently in four different buildings, all of which are proposed to be demolished in 2013.

The largest building on the demolition list is a 60,000-square-foot recreation building at Ault Field. The draft states that the base proposes to build an 81,000-square-foot physical fitness center, plus a 15,000-square-foot swimming pool, in 2012.

The assessment includes maps, photos and brief information about all the buildings on the list.

Other buildings on the demolition list includes the ramshackle Oak Harbor animal shelter on the Seaplane Base; a 41,000-square-foot applied instruction building on Ault Field; the 19,000-square-foot post office, training and weapons building on Ault Field; a couple of jet test cells; a building in the survival area; a number of Seaplane Base buildings associated with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 17; and two former celestial navigation training building which currently house security and NCIS.

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