The Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board members signed a letter in support of NASA's $32.8 million request to re-skin Moffett Field's historic Hangar One -- a response to news that the NASA Inspector General is questioning the merit of that request.
The board, which represents environmental regulators, historians, community members and officials from Mountain View and Sunnyvale, signed the letter Thursday evening, May 12.
RAB Co-chair Bill Berry said it should be clear to federal officials that leaving Hangar One a bare skeleton "is going to be emblematic of a failure in government. I can't think of a better point to make in Washington."
U.S. Navy contractor Amec Environmental has begun removing the siding, which contains layers of toxic PCB's, lead and asbestos. The project has required 225 semi-truck loads of scaffolding to be installed inside Hangar One, with some coming from as far away as Florida, said Navy official Bryce Bartelma.
The RAB's letter was sent to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, California congress members and NASA's Inspector General's office, which is conducting an audit on NASA's 2012 funding request for new Hangar One siding.
Amec and Navy officials say Hangar One's frame will be coated with paint that has a 12-year warranty and may last 30 years, but many are still very concerned about corrosion and public opinion turning against an eyesore. And bird nesting in the frame may cause "bird air strike hazards" (the Navy's use of the acronym "BASH" drew chuckles) for the adjacent runway.
"Unless Hangar One is recovered it's not going to be good for any reuse purpose or mission," the letter says. Hangar One "will be there as an emblematic eyesore reminder of a failed preservation effort." Recovering the hangar is "the logical next step" and would allow it to continue to be "a Bay Area icon."
Addressing the Inspector General's reported concerns that NASA doesn't have a mission for Hangar One to justify the restoration expense, the letter points out that NASA's unique responsibility in restoring the hangar is the result of an agreement with the Navy, which left Moffett in 1994.
"NASA's support for recovering Hangar One is consistent with its obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act and the Office of Management and Budget's decision to share the cleanup and re-covering of costs for Hangar One between the Navy and NASA," the letter reads.
The first panels removed on the southern roof of the hangar have exposed a layer of redwood that preservationists say they were unaware of. The wood is laid underneath the black upper portion of the hangar. The tongue and groove sections create a herringbone pattern, Bartelma said.
Board members were surprised to learn that the wood is set to be removed and sold.
"I'm very uncomfortable that a piece of the hangar that is historic is now going to be sold off," said Steve Williams, RAB member and Save Hangar One Committee member. There needs to be a discussion about "whether we're going to use historic parts of the hangar to restore the hangar or are we going to sell them off?"
NASA Ames official Ann Clarke added that NASA Ames' facilities engineering department "has their eye on that wood."
Deb Feng, NASA Ames deputy director, explained that NASA has decided not to save hundreds of unique corrugated and wire-reinforced upper windows because "there aren't many that aren't damaged."
Preservationists appeared to accept that assessment after seeing images of numerous cracked and shattered windows projected on a large screen. Some suggested that the surviving windows be sold as souvenirs, much like portions of cable from the Golden Gate Bridge have been sold and turned into a source of funds.
"I think these could be sold and the money could go into the re-siding of the hangar," was a comment from one observer.
Hangar One discussions ended with a presentation on efforts to partner with the Smithsonian Museum to re-use Hangar One as an earth, air and space center. Larry Ellis, CEO of the Air and Space West Education Foundation, (ASWEF) said officials in Washington D.C. like the idea of using the hangar as a distribution center for Smithsonian exhibits which rarely come to West Coast museums. The idea of using Hangar One as a museum itself has yet to gain traction.
ASWEF, the board of which includes Save Hangar One Committee leaders, has also reframed its pitch with a new focus on using Hangar One as an education center focused on earth, air and space sciences, helping to fulfill NASA's requirement to provide public education in science, technology, engineering and math. They also say it could also be a part of the planned university campus at the adjacent NASA Research Park, which has been put on hold because of uncertainties about World Expo 2020 coming to Moffett Field.
At the meeting, Feng continued to express NASA Ames' interest in using at least part of Hangar One to house modern airships.