Mountain View Voice

News - March 19, 2010

NASA, Navy hug

Both sides say they're committed to re-skinning Hangar One, but funding still scarce

by Daniel DeBolt

NASA and Navy officials made a show of solidarity last week and said that, for the first time, they are jointly "committed" to preserving historic Hangar One at Moffett Field, and that various options for restoring the Hangar will probably be released by the end of March.

"We are currently working to figure out the details of various options," said NASA Ames director Lew Braxton during the Moffett Restoration Advisory Board meeting Thursday night. "We all have a requirement to get back to Congresswoman Eshoo in a couple of weeks."

The hope of nearly everyone involved is to make sure a new exterior can be installed at the same time that the old skin is removed later this year, using the same scaffolding. While NASA's tone was positive, there is still no funding allocated — more than $15 million is needed — to put a new skin on the 200-foot-tall structure, and the Navy still plans to remove its siding as part of an environmental cleanup in mid-December.

Braxton told reporters after Thursday's meeting that he was fairly confident funds would be found to restore the Hangar, but could not say when. He called the current state of cooperation between the Navy and NASA a "high-water mark," and made a conciliatory gesture by going out of his way to give a hug to Navy spokesperson Kathryn Stewart during the meeting.

"Everybody watch this," Braxton said. "NASA and the Navy are getting along."

The RAB meeting came on the heels of a White House Office of Management and Budget arbitration process that concluded NASA is solely responsible for Hangar One restoration costs, ending negotiations that NASA hoped would result in the Navy helping to restore the structure by providing some of the up-front costs.

There had also been a recent meeting between the secretary of the Navy, the head of NASA, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and the OMB in which everyone agreed that "the Hangar needs to be preserved," Braxton said.

Braxton made comments indicating that NASA was seriously considering the use of private development funds to restore the Hangar. He said he had gotten a tour of the former Ford auto plant in Richmond restored by Orton Development, a firm which has asked NASA to allow open bidding for Hangar One restoration. Orton wants to restore the structure and lease it out for various uses. "They did an outstanding job," Braxton said of the Ford plant.

There was still much skepticism from preservationists and members of the RAB, who pointed out that there was no reason to believe that the Hangar's massive skeletal structure wouldn't be left exposed to the elements when the siding is removed later this year. (The Navy said the schedule for siding removal has been pushed from November to mid-December.) RAB members decided to form a subcommittee that would meet more frequently about Hangar One in the coming months.

At the meeting, NASA Ames employee Cheryl Orth suggested that a grassroots campaign be started to raise money from regular citizens to restore Hangar One. Costs for restoration have been put at anywhere between $15 million and $40 million.

"I would be happy to write the first check to Lew Braxton for $100," she said.

Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, said it was important to designate a reuse for the Hangar and a cost for restoration in order for the community to be more involved in saving it.

Braxton said he imagined there may be some sort of public-private partnership to fund restoration and reuse, and did not want to say how much re-skinning might cost so as to not influence possible future bids on the project.

In the next few weeks, Braxton said, NASA intends to narrow down a list of potential ways to fund restoration and reuse of the Hangar. There is still an early proposal to use Hangar One to house another large airship for aeronautical research, Braxton said, but NASA does not have such a program funded yet.

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