Mountain View Voice

News - July 16, 2010

Plans to destroy Hangar One relics may be unnecessary

Navy rethinks plans to trash lights, walls and buildings inside historic structure

by Daniel DeBolt

As a Navy contractor mobilizes to deconstruct much of Moffett Field's landmark Hangar One to remove contaminants, preservationists and NASA Ames employees questioned the necessity and cost effectiveness of removing several historically valuable interior structures last week.

In its attempts to remove the hangar's toxic siding and lead paint, preservationists say the Navy is removing much of the historic value of the best-preserved 1930s airship hangar in the world.

One by one, the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board last Thursday discussed preserving as many artifacts and structures as possible. That included hundreds of explosion-proof light fixtures from the 1930s. The Navy is planning to dispose of the lights because of their asbestos gaskets, but told the RAB that the lights could be re-used without the gaskets.

The Navy has budgeted $75,000 to preserve historic artifacts inside the hangar. Hangar One's owner, NASA Ames Research Center, is on the hook for the rest of any necessary preservation costs, such as $1.2 million to preserve the Hangar's windows and the unknown cost of removing lead paint from the hangar's elevator guideways and eight overhead man crane tracks if the hangar's unique people-movers are ever to function again. NASA Ames management was largely silent at the meeting.

A NASA Ames employee familiar with the hangar questioned why the Navy was planning to remove a two-story steel wall around the interior perimeter of the hangar, when it seemed obvious that it would be easier and cheaper to leave it in place rather than grind and cut it from the hangar's steel frame. Neither the Navy nor its deconstruction contractor were able to articulate why the wall was being removed, and the Navy said it would look into saving it. The RAB voted to support keeping the steel walls in place if possible

The RAB has also questioned the Navy's plans to remove the most historically significant structure inside the hangar. Known as the Cork Room, it was used to store and maintain the gas cells that kept USS Macon airship aloft. Some RAB members were upset when it became apparent that the Navy had not studied whether the Cork Room was contaminated with dust from asbestos, lead paint and PCBs before deciding to pay for its demolition.

Angela Lind, the Navy's lead remedial project manager for Moffett, said the Navy is going to have the Cork Room tested for contamination to see if it can be saved.

The Navy has awarded a $22 million contract to Amec Environmental for Hangar One's deconstruction. Crews of workers have already set up equipment around the hangar, including a decontamination rig to make sure that trucks leaving the site do not spread toxic dust offsite. Downwind of the hangar, a trio of air quality sensors will detect if toxic dust is blowing away from the site, which may become more challenging to contain as the hangar's PCB- and asbestos-laden siding is removed next spring, opening the massive structure to winds from the bay.

Deconstruction of Hangar One has been delayed a few months, with interior demolition to begin in September and removal of the hangar's skin beginning in the spring to be completed by fall 2011.

AMEC Environmental's president, Mike Schulz, appeared sympathetic to preservationists at the meeting. He was given a tour of Hangar One recently by historians, along with several RAB members.

"It's pretty fascinating." Schulz said, pausing during a presentation. "I enjoyed that tour."

In an e-mail after the meeting, founding Moffett Field Historical Society board member Bill Wissel lamented the loss of Hangar One as many know it.

"Moffett Field was the most sophisticated rigid airship base ever built," Wissel said. "Everything that had come before Moffett Field, like the zeppelin sheds in Germany, the British hangars at Cardington, even the U.S. hangars at Lakehurst and Akron, everything that was learned from all of those structures was incorporated into the facilities at Moffett Field.

"Right now, Moffett is also the most "untouched" airship base in the world. All of the zeppelin hangars in Germany are gone. Lakehurst has been modified; even Akron has had a lot of changes. But Hangar One at Moffett and Shenandoah Plaza represent the most unspoiled lighter-than-air complex left standing. It's almost like a time capsule. And it is all in structurally sound condition."

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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