Friday, April 03, 2015

TOP STORY >> New community center on base

Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base marked the grand opening of the Walters Community Support Center on Friday for education, development and care for airmen and their families to meet and learn.

The Walters Center in the old Base Exchange. The building was saved from bulldozers and with $3.7 million in renovations, it puts the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Base Library and Community Activities Center under one roof. They were scattered across the base in 1950s era buildings. The new facility is more convenient and saves the base operating and maintenance costs.

The multi-purpose 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 had 22 years of service.

Col. Patrick Rhatigan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, said the one pursuit of Walters was taking care of airmen.

“He poured his efforts into supporting our airmen and the families by improving their education opportunities,” Rhatigan said.

Walters wrote in a research paper on improving education at LRAFB that his goal was, “to make Jacksonville, Arkansas, the Educational Center of Excellence.”

Three projects grew from Walters’ idea.

Rhatigan said one was the Lighthouse Charter School that was paid for with local donations of $1.4 million. The school ranks in the top 11 percent of middle schools in the state.

The second project was the Jacksonville-LRAFB University Center, just outside the main gate. The University Center is a $15 million facility funded by Jacksonville taxpayers and the Air Force. It provides classrooms for six different universities.

“It is the first of its kind in the Department of Defense,” Rhatigan said.

The third project is the proposed joint-education campus, which will provide the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District with a low-cost option to a state-of-the-art education center. The project has grown to 300 acres and can provide a new elementary and high school for the children of LRAFB and Jacksonville.

The themes of the Walters Support Community Center are versatility, education and care of the foundation, Rhatigan said.

“Many of the airmen are here for training or right out of school and don’t have a vehicle to get them off base. The Walters Community Support Center will now provide them with a gathering place right here in the heart of the installation. They can meet their friends for a cup of coffee, study and check out movies, books and music. They can use Wi-Fi and learn about all the support programs that we have dedicated to helping them,” Rhatigan said.

The library has doubled in size. It has computer labs, an enclosed children’s section and a teen room for a better study environment.

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

Many social events can 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.

Randy Walters, Kenneth’s brother, said the recognition is fitting for someone who valued community and bringing people together. Kenneth’s family spent six years with the LRAFB community.

“After touring this facility and being part of this ceremony, I know my brother would be most grateful for this honor,” Randy Walters said.