NASA headquarters and House Republicans now appear to view the demolition of Hangar One as a real possibility, but it would "make a mockery" of federal historic preservation law and "ignores years of discussion by the local community and government agencies," preservationists say in a letter to be sent to Washington D.C.
Federal funding is the only practical way to re-skin historic Hangar One, preservationists say, and any plans by NASA to demolish it or transfer it to another agency could take many years, cause degradation of its exposed frame and lead to legal complications, including a potential lawsuit over demolition.
The Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board voted to send the letter, available in draft form Thursday, to the Office of the Inspector General.
The OIG, which reports to Congress, has recommended that Hangar One be demolished or transferred to another government agency because the $32.8 million project has no officially designated use and would mean major cuts to more critical NASA projects.
While preservationists say the OIG report ignored NASA's legal obligations to preserve the hangar under two statutes, NASA headquarters concurred with the OIG report, saying that demolition and transfer to another agency should be studied, options noted by the House Appropriations Committee after it decided to kill President Obama's request for $32.8 million for Hangar One in NASA's 2012 budget.That request was made after negotiations between the United States Navy, NASA and the White House put the responsibility on NASA, although some preservationists believe the Navy should have been held responsible.
"It's deeply disappointing to see the Republicans cut out the entire funding, but I will not give up fighting for the complete restoration of Hangar One," said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo in a statement. "It's a national treasure and when re-skinned, it will once again be an essential asset to Silicon Valley and our country."
"There have been many bumps in the road" for Hangar One, Eshoo said. "I consider this yet another bump."
Demolition of Hangar One would "turn much of the Navy's projected $26 million disassembly (siding removal) into financial waste," the letter from the RAB says. It adds that demolition would likely cost "upwards of $11 million" and would significantly reduce the value of the Moffett Field historic district.
On Thursday Moffett RAB member Steve Williams questioned a NASA Ames Research Center official on whether NASA wants the local community to continue fighting for its $32.8 million request.
"It isn't something Ames can do by itself," said Deb Feng, deputy director of NASA Ames. "I don't see the priority across the agency. We do have 10 centers. The $32 million is a tough pill to swallow. We don't have an identified, concrete use," for Hangar One.
"How hard does Ames want to go up the ladder at NASA and fight for the hangar?" Williams asked Feng, who said she couldn't answer.
"Those are decisions made way above my pay grade," Feng said. "They are now at the Congressional level."
NASA has until Nov. 30 to study alternatives for Hangar One and report back to Congress.
Former NASA administrator and RAB co-chair Bill Berry said NASA's proposed budget cuts were the worst he had seen. "NASA is more worried about the Hubble telescope replacement than Hangar One, I can assure you," he said, expressing doubt that NASA could fund Hangar One in 2012 or 2013.
If NASA were to consider demolition it would open the federal government up to a lawsuit under the National Historic Preservation Act and Superfund law, which the OIG report failed to mention, said Superfund expert Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight in Mountain View.
The OIG "report ignored NASA's responsibility, before taking any management action to further erode the historic integrity of the Hangar, to engage in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office, ACHP, and the public under procedures set out in section 106 regulations," says the letter, co-authored by Siegel and Berry.
The Mountain View City Council in 2009 said it would support a city-sponsored lawsuit against the Navy for removing the siding of Hangar One without a plan for new siding. That suit never came to fruition, but there is likely to be even more of a desire by the council to take action against the entire removal of Hangar One. The council has not yet taken an official position, though.
There is also the possibility that the city could take ownership of Hangar One and the southwestern corner of Moffett Field, but Siegel is cautioning City Council members to consider that it could take at least five years to do that under the best circumstances, and probably even longer, considering how long it has taken other former military bases to transfer to neighboring cities, such as Hunter's Point in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Navy is set to remove the toxic siding from Hangar One by early 2012 and coat the frame with a coating guaranteed to last 11 years. Preservationists believe the frame will still degrade once exposed to the elements.
Siding removal update
After some delays caused by rain, last week siding removal exposed Hangar One's skeletal frame for the first time on the southern doors of the hangar. Blue sky can now been from inside the 211-foot-tall structure.
The Navy has removed the man-cranes that travel on tracks along the ceiling of the hangar and will preserve them. They will be cleaned and stored by NASA, along with 25 of the hangar's unique corrugated windows, a project for which the Navy recently awarded a contract. Hangar One's massive door mechanisms will be cleaned, painted and wrapped to protect them from the elements, said Navy project manager Bryce Bartelma.
But preservationists were highly disappointed to learn that the unique redwood sheathing under the roof of the hangar are up for sale by Navy contractor Amec Environmental. Feng said NASA has no money to purchase the tongue and groove panels that make herringbone pattern under the roof, which could otherwise be part of Hangar One's eventual restoration. She also said the panels could not be used under state fire codes, which architect Linda Ellis said was untrue as Hangar One is a historic building.
"It is simply not appropriate to defer costs by selling historic materials that could be re-used in the Hangar," RAB member Williams said.
Amec president Mike Shulz said that the redwood was simply referred to as sheathing for the roof as Amec made its contract with the Navy. Preservationists were unaware of the redwood until recently.
Bartelma said the Navy has finished construction of scaffolding in most of the hangar, which was a "massive, massive project" and "quite a sight to see." There have also been no accidents among workers over the last year, even as work occurs 200 feet above the ground.