By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
VANCE AIR FORCE BASE —
The men and women who work in the control tower at Vance Air Force Base spend their days looking down on the bustle of activity at one of the busiest air fields in the Air Force.
That is their present. But if they look to the east, and up, they will see their future.
Getting a late start
Looming over the present Vance tower, which was completed in 1972, is the new tower scheduled to be opened later this year.
Construction of the tower was delayed because of a design change involving the size of the elevator and stairwells. The areas must be large enough to accommodate emergency personnel and a gurney. That delayed groundbreaking from October 2011 to last summer.
“That was probably the biggest delay,” said Braven Dyer, project engineer with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “They had to go back and redesign to accommodate those two items. Our original completion (date) was May of 2012.”
Most of the tower is made of pre-cast concrete, said Dyer. The design delays caused the Vance tower to lose its “place in line,” with the firm in Tulsa that manufactures the pre-cast pieces. A parking garage project in Stillwater moved ahead of it.
The new projected completion date, Dyer said, “is the million-dollar question.”
The contractors doing the construction say the new tower will be finished in late July. When the tower is complete, said Donita Hazlett, base civil engineer, the Air Force will have 60 days to move all equipment and furnishings out of the old tower before it is demolished.
“The big thing is the communications and the controlling equipment,” Hazlett said.
The tower project originally was allotted $10.7 million through an insert by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act passed by Congress in 2009. But the final cost of the tower is expected to be $9.5 million, Dyer said.
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 the 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.
“There will be a lot better visibility,” said Hazlett. “That was one of the goals of the project, that the tower controllers and the SOF (supervisor of flight) have a lot better visibility.”
That will be facilitated in part by the shape of the cab, which was constructed on the ground, then lifted into place by a crane.
“The lines along the east-west side are longer, so it’s not symmetrical,” she said. “It’s got two longer sides, which should give a lot better, clearer visibility to the folks up in the tower.”
Little more room to grow
Vance has the fifth busiest air traffic control location in the Air Force, said Lt. Col. Donald Callaghan, commander of 71st Operations Support Squadron.
The new tower not only will help train student pilots at Vance but air traffic controllers as well. Vance trains a number of controllers in both the tower and radar approach control every year. Currently there are 21 3-level air traffic control trainees at Vance, with 10 more expected in the next three months, Callaghan said.
“The new tower will add to our existing training capacity, since there will be more room for controllers and trainees without overcrowding,” Callaghan said. “Since the new tower has significantly more area, it provides for the inclusion of a room dedicated to the tower simulator and separate training and break rooms, drastically cutting down on crowding and distractions.
“This added capacity will also allow for more dual-qualified controllers (those certified in both the Radar Approach Control and tower). The new tower also will incorporate new equipment for airfield lighting and new digital voice recording capacity.”
The new tower will contain a simulator room, training classroom and offices. In addition, the simulator room will serve as a tornado shelter.
This will be Vance’s third control tower since the base was built in 1941, Hazlett said.
The tower is the only new construction presently ongoing on base. An ongoing project involves renovation of the base’s enlisted dormitories. That is a $6.5 million project to replace the heating and air conditioning systems in the 1950s-era dorms, as well as modernizing the kitchens. One goal is to make the dorms more energy efficient and eliminate a possible mold issue due to moisture on the old heating and cooling lines.
“They’re doing the second of two buildings,” said Lt. Col. Richard Ward, deputy commander of 71st Mission Support Group. “We’re on schedule with the second building.”
“We’re not going through and redecorating or redoing any of the layout,” said Hazlett, “we’re primarily doing heating and air conditioning to control moisture. We had some minor mold issues, nothing that was a health risk, but we didn’t want it to get there. Plus the kitchens were kind of dated.”
There is one kitchen on each floor of the buildings, one of which has a capacity of 52, the other of 53.
A $30 million project for outside runway repair has been pushed back to fiscal year 2015 by Air Education and Training Command.
“There’s no new construction right now because we’re in a continuing resolution,” said Ward.
Department of Defense and Congress have declared a moratorium in funding military construction (milcon) projects in FY 2013.
The courtyard area in the base’s temporary lodging facility is being revamped with construction dollars from FY 2012. New lighting will be added and sidewalks will be redone.
“We want to make it so people want to be outside and enjoy that area,” Hazlett said.
Dyer’s other project is installation of high expansion fire suppression foam systems for two of Vance’s hangars, 141 and 129. In case of fire, those systems can quickly fill the hangar with foam to douse the flames. That likewise is being paid for with FY 2012 funds. That project is in the design phase.
“That’s so we have more capability to do more maintenance,” he said.
The base’s No. 1 future military construction project is a proposed $17.9 million effort to expand and consolidate existing flying squadron facilities.
The goal is “to bring them up to size standards,” said Hazlett, “because right now they are all undersized and significantly cramped.”
Besides, there are issues with heating and air conditioning.
“Their heating and air conditioning systems, especially in the two main flying squadron buildings, are very old and antiquated,” he said. “They can’t keep up with the heat that we have in the summer.”