Mountain View Voice

Opinion - August 3, 2012

Hangar One hangs in limbo

Look no further than the skeletal remains of Hangar One at Moffett Field to see what happens when Washington decision-makers are hopelessly embroiled in partisan gridlock and bureaucrats in the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) cannot make a decision that would restore the historic structure, at no cost to the government! The powers that be arrived at their indecision despite a strong local movement to restore Hangar One, which was supported by Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat, who apparently has very little influence in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Eshoo has been a staunch promoter of restoring Hangar One, even after the Navy refused to do so, ignoring its responsibilities as the former operator of Moffett Field.

But even though the Navy claimed it was not responsible for restoring Hangar One, the government had another option. Google, whose corporate headquarters is less than a mile from Hangar One, and whose executive aircraft have permission to operate out of Moffett Field, offered to bankroll the entire job of recovering the hangar in return for the right to park their planes inside the massive structure. It was an incredibly generous offer, but NASA officials gave it the cold shoulder. For more than a year, there was no reply from the space agency.

When NASA finally released its decision, it was a shocker: rather than accept Google's offer to reskin Hangar One, NASA expressed interest in declaring the hangar and Moffett Federal Air Field as surplus, which means other federal agencies could bid to take it over. The move very likely will make it impossible for any work to be done on Hangar One for years, as the glacial process of disposing of surplus government property proceeds.

It was a major slap in the face to Mountain View's stalwart supporters of restoring Hangar One, as well as the top Google officials, who were willing to pay to recover the hangar — a job costing an estimated $45 million — in return for being able to park their own planes in a portion of the gigantic space.

By moving ahead without a plan to replace the siding that was being removed, the Navy added millions of dollars in cost to any future effort to restore the hangar. More than 225 truckloads of scaffolding was erected inside the building, which is more than 700 feet in length and 200 feet tall. Now that the siding is removed and there is no plan to recover the building, the scaffolding will be dismantled and trucked away, wiping out the opportunity save millions of dollars if it were used again to reskin the building.

Hangar One supporters can only hope that NASA or the Congress comes to their senses and makes it possible for Google's offer to be accepted, so that the steel framework will not be irreparably damaged by the elements in the years ahead. Luckily, as the siding was removed, workers pressure-cleaned the remaining structure and then applied a protective silver paint that could last decades. Perhaps by then, saner minds will prevail and find a way to restore this Depression-era icon to its rightful stature — new siding included.

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