Leader Blues

Saturday, December 29, 2007

TOP STORY >>School at base to go up in ’09

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Ground could be broken for the $15.7 million, first-of-its-kind Joint Education Center at Little Rock Air Force Base in 2009, according to Tech. Sgt. Kati Garcia, spokesperson for the 314th Airlift Wing, now that President Bush has signed the $555 billion omnibus funding bill.

The center will make college classes available to both airmen and area residents. The Jacksonville community has sought a new building for this educational partnership for several years.

Attendance by area residents at the existing facility dropped off after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when security was beefed up at the base. The new center will be on base, but outside the fenced perimeter, near the intersection of Vandenberg Boulevard and John Harden Drive.

The existing facility is old and inefficient, according to Nancy Sheflette, director of the ASU-Beebe branch on the base. She said the prospect of a new, more accessible facility is exciting. Jacksonville residents voted overwhelmingly to tax themselves to support the new education center.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said the city is ready to write its $5 million check to the Air Force as soon as he is asked.
Because such a joint venture between a community and an air base is apparently unprecedented, officials have had to find a way for the base to accept the city’s money. Swaim said he believes that had been resolved.

The 2008 budget held an unusually large number of blessings for the nation’s premiere C-130 training, maintenance and operation center, including money for additional landing capacity and repair of the existing, worn runways, Garcia said, and also for additional C-130J military transport aircraft.

It authorizes $1.356 billion for 17 state-of-the-art C-130Js and another $495 million for seven KC-130Js for the Navy.
A spokesman for Cong. Vic Snyder said Friday nine more C-130Js are destined for the Jacksonville base, bringing their total to 20 and 100 more airmen.

Crews for all C-130s are trained at the base.

In addition, the Base Realign-ment and Closure process has expanded the base’s training mission to include C-130E and H training previously done by the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. That should bring 100 additional airmen and three more older planes to the base.

“All told, there should be about 250 additional bodies coming to the base by 2009,” Garcia said.

She said that delivery of new C-130Js should be completed by 2010.

If they were ordered today, it would take about four years to get the aircraft built, she said, but Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the C-130J, has “aircraft coming continuously off the line. They are leaning forward and we should have them in the next two years.”

Garcia said plans for the educational center are likely at least roughed out at this point and could go out for bids as soon as they are finalized.

“I can’t say when it will be done,” she said, but that Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz was pleased that the education project and the others were being funded.

“He understands that without support (of the community and the congressional delegation)—we’re not getting this kind of money. The amount is a lot of money for one base.”

“A lot of the groundwork was done by the people who came before him,” she said. “But he will be here for at least the ground- work. He’s going to start looking for things he can improve on that base.”

Schatz has lobbied the local school board for a new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive Elementary School on the base.