Tuesday, April 07, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Base opens new center

Little Rock Air Force Base last week celebrated the grand opening of the Walters Community Support Center, a multi-purpose building that will serve the needs airmen and their families for generations.

The new facility, which includes a community activities center, a library and more, is the latest improvement project that recognizes the importance of providing the best educational and recreational facilities to our airmen.

The Walters Center, inside the old Base Exchange, was remodeled at a cost of $3.7 million and includes the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Base Library and Community Activities Center under one roof. They were spread out across the base in 1950s-era buildings. The new facility is more convenient and saves the base with operating and maintenance costs.

The facility is named in honor of Col. Kenneth A. Walters, former 19th Mission Support Group deputy commander, who passed away in 2012 after a six-year battle with cancer. Walters served 22 years in the Air Force.

As our Jeffrey Smith reported in The Leader on Saturday, the library has doubled in size. It has computer labs, an enclosed children’s section and a room for teenagers to have a better study environment.

The Family Readiness Center has more privacy for counseling sessions and new classrooms with updated equipment.

Many social events will be held at the Walter’s Center ballroom. It has music rooms for instructional classes, game rooms, play-group rooms, a meeting room for official functions and a kitchen.

Like the nearby health and wellness center, which was built several years ago thanks to the efforts of our congressional delegation, the Walters Community Center is a reflection of our community’s strong ties to the air base. There’s not another base in the country that enjoys as much local support as LRAFB, which translates into hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from infrastructure to modern cargo airplanes. The fleet of new C-130Js are worth more than $1 billion.

Three other major projects worth $133.6 million are underway at Little Rock Air Force Base and due for completion by 2017.

Those include rebuilding a 50-year-old runway and adjacent landing strip at a cost of $120 million. Sundt Construction of Tempe, Ariz., is the contractor for the new 12,000-foot runway and landing strip. In addition, the construction of a fifth C-130J simulator is underway as the 19th Airlift Wing transitions to an all C-130J combat unit.

Currently, the base has four C-130J simulators, and an annex to house the fifth is due for completion by November. Alessi-Keyes Construction of Maumelle is the contractor and the cost of the project is $4,218,503.

To keep the planes flying, the air base needs fuel to stay in the air. The new C-130 fuel-cell building project is 74 percent completed. The two-bay fuel-systems maintenance building will service, maintain, repair and, when needed, replace the plastic wing bladders that actually hold the fuel. The new facility replaces Hangar 222, a 1950s-era building that was not designed for the C-130.

That new building is being constructed on a design-build contract by Ross Construction Corp. of Tulsa for $21,464,972.

These improvement projects will make Little Rock Air Force Base a better home for our airmen. But there’s no telling if we’ll see more such projects in the near future. They are being completed just as Congress is considering another round of sequestration cuts that would trim $10 billion from the Air Force budget next fiscal year. A freeze on new construction and a round of more layoffs and furloughs are possible at our air base and elsewhere.

These are today’s political realities. As we celebrate $137.3 million in construction projects here, let us be thankful for what we have but remember that lean times are ahead.