After two years of threatening to demolish Hangar One rather than restore the historic structure, the Navy announced last week that it plans to remove its toxic siding and leave the nearly 200-foot-tall skeleton behind -- a "half victory" for local preservationists, who say there won't be much to celebrate until difficult decisions are made over what to do with the bare frame.
"It doesn't really preserve the hangar," said Bob Moss, co-chair of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board. "If they just pull those sides off, somebody has to find the money to re-skin it. NASA has no money. They are cutting programs and laying people off. To ask them to turn around and spend $15 million to put a new cover on the hangar -- it won't happen."
The Navy's offer "certainly wouldn't be our preferred treatment plan," said Susan Stratton, director of project review for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which had hoped for a commitment by the Navy to restore the Moffett Field icon.
No one opposes restoration, said Lenny Siegel of the Mountain View-based Center for Public Environmental Oversight. The problem has always been where the money would come from.
"Getting money from any government agency at this point is pretty unlikely," Moss said.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a key player in Washington on the hangar's fate, noted that "The appropriations for this season have ended."
Further appropriations money "would have to come up in a new Congress," she said. "I don't think it's news to anyone that dollars are scarce. When the country is spending $2.5 billion a week on the war it really hits home. Funding for infrastructure, funding for education <0x2014> as sad as it sounds all of these areas are really pushed. If this is to be a priority I will work on it. But it's tight, everything is tight."
Still, Eshoo looked on the bright side, noting that "[The Navy's recommendation is not to demolish, which I think is good news. That was the threat that's been hanging over the community's head."
The Navy estimates that removing the siding and applying a coating to the frame -- which could protect the frame temporarily -- will cost $26.16 million. Installing new siding could add another $14.9 million. By contrast, demolition would be $26.7 million, the report says.
The Save Hangar One Committee has collected thousands of signatures in support of a proposal from independent architect Linda Ellis, who believes a white Teflon-fiberglass fabric siding, similar to the material used for Shoreline Amphitheatre's canopy, would work fine. That option would cost an estimated $12 million.
The Navy's announcement two years ago that it would demolish Hangar One was met with widespread outrage, but this time around it's been hard to gauge the community's concern, Siegel said, and he's worried people are relaxing during crunch time.
The hangar has garnered plenty of attention in the past. Earlier this year it was placed on a list of the country's top 11 endangered historic places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2006, a dozen California representatives, including Eshoo and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wrote a letter to the Navy saying demolition would be a "travesty."
"If the hangar isn't preserved it's not for lack of interest, that's for sure," Stratton said.
Siegel said Pelosi and Sen. Diane Feinstein, who sits on the defense budget appropriations committee, are key to gaining the restoration funding. But locals who have discussed Hangar One funding with Feinstein's office say they face a chicken-and-egg dilemma: With no proposal for Hangar One's use, Feinstein is hesitant to allocate restoration money; with no restoration funding promised, no proposals have been able to gain ground.
"At some point there may be a combined public-private partnership," Eshoo said about Hangar re-use. "At least that's what it seems to me at this point."
Moss mentioned that a company like Google might have an interest in saving the Hangar.
Whether its future use will be public or private may be of some contention. So far, proposals include an air and space museum and a staging area for FEMA operations. The latter idea was mentioned by Eshoo last year.
"I think that there could be several wonderful public uses," Eshoo said. "It's something that needs to be put out to public agencies, to see how they might make use of it, to figure out what the needs are. That would need approval of the community. I don't think there will be any shortage of ideas."
Siegel said he'd like to see NASA Ames, which inherited the hangar from the Navy in 1994, create a committee to assess various proposals for its landmark structure.
NASA Ames officials did not comment by press time.
"NASA's silence on this from Ames director Pete Worden's office has been conspicuous," Siegel said. "If the Navy does this, what will NASA do? It's an issue between Ames and NASA headquarters."
Released July 30, the revised Environmental Evaluation and Cost Analysis outlined 13 different options for the hangar. Five were favored over the others, including a rubberized coating over the toxic siding as used at Hangar One's twin, the Goodyear Air dock in Akron, Ohio. Also favored but not picked: an acrylic coating, a new "visually similar siding," and finally, "Alternative 11," i.e. the "permanent remedy" of demolishing and removing the hangar once and for all.
"If you remove the hangar, that is another piece of the story that's being removed from the landscape," Stratton said.
The Navy also plans to record the oral histories of people who worked at Hangar One over the years, prepare and distribute an interactive Hangar One CD, and preserve the hangar's "man-cranes."
Hangar One, originally built during the Depression to house the USS Macon airship, is 1,133 feet long and 198 feet tall. Ten football fields, laid side-by-side along their widths, could fit inside. It is tall enough that rain clouds can form at the top. The doors weigh 200 tons each and are moved on train tracks using 150-horsepower motors.
According to the report, the strange toxics that emanate from Hangar One, Aroclor 1260 and 1268, were first found in a stormwater retention pond in 1997. In October 2002, the same PCBs were found in Hangar One's multilayer Robertson Protected Metal siding, which also contains asbestos felt and lead paint. Two proposed methods of cleaning the toxics from deep within the siding were not found to be feasible, the report says.
According to the report, a structural analysis commissioned last year indicated that minor bracing would be necessary for the hangar to stand as a skeleton without siding.
A public Navy meeting on Hangar One is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. at the American Legion Hall in Santa Clara, 2120 Walsh Ave. To strategize and prepare for the meeting, the Save Hangar One Committee is gathering Thursday, Aug. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Moffett Field History Museum, located at the foot of Hangar One. The full 485-page Navy report can be downloaded from www.nuqu.org. Written comments must be e-mailed to email@example.com, or postmarked by Sept. 13 and sent to:
Darren Newton, BRAC Environmental Coordinator
Navy BRAC Program Management Office
W. 1455 Frazee Road, Suite 900
San Diego, CA 92108