Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TOP STORY >>Spending bill includes millions for area

By JOHN HOFHEIIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The on-again, off-again Little Rock Air Force Base/Jacksonville Joint Education Center passed the Senate and is headed to the House, part of a $516 billion omnibus spending bill that President Bush has indicated he might sign.

The president said he’d sign the omnibus package if Congress approves the funding he seeks for the Iraq war.

Otherwise, Bush said, he’ll veto it.

The federal government will pay about $10.7 million toward the education center project, with Jacksonville’s $5 million share already in the bank.

The bill is likely to pass the House, according to Crystal Waitekus, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Pryor.

In addition to the money for the joint-education center, on the military side, the bill includes $9.8 million to repair and update runways at Little Rock Air Force Base, $1.9 million for an urban- assault course at Camp Robinson, $18.4 million for the General Equivalency Diploma Plus program complex at Camp Robinson’s Professional Education Center and $840,000 for the Cabot Readiness Center — a new National Guard facility.

As a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, Arkansas is slated to receive funding to modernize the aerospace ground equipment and engine facility at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Among other items of local interest in the omnibus bill are $9.8 million for the Grand Prairie Construction Project, $2.7 million for a Bayou Meto study and $3.1 million toward study and engineering of a new I-630/I-430 interchange.

The Clinton School of Public Service would receive $1 million toward opera tion, instruction and the extensive slate of public speakers.

For the joint-education center, the funds will go to the construction of a new, improved educational facility off-base, so classes can continue to operate without interruption during times of increased security restrictions.

Arkansas State University will operate the new facility, providing a wider selection of academic programs to active duty and reserve military personnel, their dependents and interested civilians.

The runway funding allows repair of Little Rock Air Force Base’s deteriorated runway and shoulder pavements, removal or elimination of airfield obstructions, replacement of runway lighting and reorganization of the instrument guidance and navigation systems.

The construction upgrades the operational life of the airfield and supports mission-essential flight training there.

The Urban Assault Course at Camp Robinson will support the individual and collective familiarization and qualification requirements of all personnel assigned to units in the Brigade Combat Team.

Basically it provides a pretend city so soldiers can practice the techniques of fighting in an urban setting.
In addition, it is expected that other units will use this facility.

Sitting on 4.5 acres, the GED center it will include barracks, classrooms, a dining area and administrative offices.

It is the national training center for the Army National Guard, hosting more than 20,000 conferees annually.