The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 10, 2013

VDA gets updates on ongoing local projects

By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Vance Development Authority received updates on one on-going construction project, one in the works and three more in the planning stages during its regular meeting Thursday.

The new Vance Air Force Base control tower, plagued by a series of delays related to design and materials, is rising into the winter sky near the base flight line.

The project represents the state of Oklahoma’s last congressional earmark. The $10.7 million funding for the project came in fiscal year 2010 as a congressional add-on, inserted by Sen. Jim Inhofe into the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. Such earmarks since have been banned.

Work on the new tower was supposed to begin in 2011, but various design changes prompted groundbreaking to be delayed until late 2012.

“It’s just been a nightmare,” Mike Cooper, the city’s military liaison, told the group. “But it will be great when it is done.”

Actual construction costs for the new tower will be closer to $9.9 million, since bids came in lower than expected. Cooper said he expects construction to take 12-18 months.

The cab floor of Vance’s present tower is 63 feet high, which will reach only to the seventh floor of the new tower, the cab floor of which will be 96 feet above ground level.

The new tower not only will be taller but larger — 6,665 square feet to the current tower’s 2,294. The present tower cab is 56 percent smaller than Air Force standard, too small to accommodate updated equipment and multiple controllers and trainees. The old tower also has no elevator.

In addition, the new tower will meet all safety and fire codes.

Preliminary work is continuing on the $5.8 million project to lengthen the main runway at Enid Woodring Regional Airport to 8,000 feet, which will require relocating a stretch of Southgate Road to the south.

“The project is on track, as we expected,” said Dan Ohnesorge, airport manager and VDA member.

At present, the majority of the funding for the project, some $4.2 million, is coming from other sources — $2.5 million from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, $450,000 thus far from the Federal Aviation Administration, $260,000 thus far from the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, and $500,000 from the Oklahoma Transportation Commission for relocating Southgate. If no more outside money comes in, the city of Enid’s portion of the cost will be some $1.6 million.

“It was easy to get partners in this because they know we are not just coming to them with fluff projects,” Cooper said.

The lengthened runway not only will allow T-38s from Vance Air Force Base to land and take off from Woodring, but could accommodate larger military planes on cross-country missions, as well as larger civilian aircraft than can presently land there.

That, Cooper said, will result in cost savings for the Air Force, as well as presenting economic development opportunities for Enid.

Ohnesorge said he expects the design for relocating the road to be completed this spring and ground to be broken this summer. Design of the new runway is expected to be completed in late summer or early fall, with the project going out for bids late this year. Construction on the runway lengthening should begin in early 2014, he said. The goal is to have the project completed by 2015, when Vance is set to replace its outside runway.

Projects on the horizon are a new $17.9 million consolidated squadron operations center, a $25.5 million project to replace Vance’s outside runway and a $15.6 community support and professional development center.

Additional funding for the runway project, as well as future construction, likely will depend on the ongoing debate in Washington about budget cuts and reducing the federal deficit. The threat of so-called sequestration cuts, which would immediately slice an additional $500 billion from defense spending on top of $487 billion in cuts implemented in 2012, remains despite the 11th hour fiscal cliff agreement reached Jan. 1. That move only delayed implementation sequestration by two months, unless it is repealed by Congress.

“I can’t imagine sequestration happening,” Cooper said, “but there will still be defense cuts.”

How those cuts would impact the Air Force, and Vance, are unknown, he said. “We just have to keep doing our protection and enhancement efforts,” Cooper said.

Enid leaders will have a chance to promote the base and the city during the annual Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce trip to Washington, D.C., scheduled this year for April 8-11.