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South’s Largest Hangar Takes Flight in Jacksonville

Wed August 29, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Brooks

Contractors building the largest aircraft hangar in the southeastern United States face many of the same construction challenges as other projects such as materials, labor and tight deadlines. Then there’s the Navy planes landing just a few hundred yards from the site.

“Our biggest hurdle is working adjacent to an active runway,” said Greg Fossett, senior project manager for M.A. Mortenson Construction Company.

“That will be an ongoing concern throughout the course of the project, especially during steel construction. We’re always dealing with imaginary flight lines, obstructions and ground housekeeping. Being that close to an active runway, there could be foreign object debris on the runway and you want none of that.”

Minneapolis-based Mortenson was awarded the $123.5 million contract in September 2006 to build the new 277,000-sq.-ft. (25,734 sq m) hangar at Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS JAX).

Construction started in April and is scheduled for completion in early 2009.

Once complete, the hangar will be home to six P-3C Orion squadrons and four C-130 Hercules aircraft, which are relocating from NAS Brunswick, Maine. The project, covering 76 acres (30.7 ha), was initiated after the Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC) ordered the closure of NAS Brunswick in 2005.

“This is a great day for NAS Jacksonville, a great day for Northeast Florida and a great day for our country because this event is a symbol of the bright future of NAS JAX,” Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., said at the groundbreaking ceremony in April.

“When this hangar is completed, it will be one of the Navy’s largest hangars. It will house 37 aircraft, 1,600 new personnel and that’s a big deal for our country. For me, as a member of the appropriations committee and Congress, my job is to make sure we have the funds to build these facilities. This is a $123 million project and I’m proud to be here today to be a part of this groundbreaking.”

The project also includes aircraft apron paving, which covers 23 acres (9.3 ha), security fencing and gates, parking lots and walkways. The hangar design incorporates many energy efficiency opportunities and the Aqueous Film Forming Foam fire suppression system.

“We’re trying to incorporate green building techniques into every building we do to be energy efficient,” said Sue Brink, public affairs officer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast, which is managing the project.

Currently, Brink said, the land has been cleared and foundation work is under way. The project is on schedule and she expects to see vertical construction by October.

“The first month they cleared out some old base housing that was in there,” Brink said. “They relocated the retention ponds and have now started digging and laying the foundation.”

Fossett said while everything went “smoothly through that operation, we’ve got a lot to do in an aggressive time frame and working on a military installation there are some unique challenges with access and the availability of workers. Some folks don’t want to work on base. Some folks just can’t work on base.”

Fossett said NAS JAX requires workers to have a state issued ID if they want to work on base.

“A green card will not get you on base,” Fossett said. “Anybody in the industry these days will tell you that can present some challenges.”

In addition to finding qualified workers, Fossett said the project’s size could make materials tough to locate.

“It’s a large project and I guess a big challenge is getting the required resources,” Fossett said. “One of our early concerns was getting our raw materials for our structural steel in a timely fashion. We were fortunate and successful in partnering with the government and getting those mill orders early enough so that will not be a problem.”

With hurricane season moving toward its peak, Brink said there are some concerns about material shortages should a storm hit.

“There’s always challenges because of the size and there’s always challenges such as the challenge with the natural disasters we’ve had that may sometimes put constraints on the type of materials that people can find and the cost they can get them,” Brink said.

Challenges aside, Fossett said they continue to move forward and the site is humming with backhoes, trackhoes and a couple of off-road trucks. Mortenson doesn’t have any equipment on site; it all belongs to the subcontractors.

“We’re putting some sizable storm drainage pipe in the ground, 72-inch concrete pipe, about 1,000 feet,” Fossett said. “And a new retention pond for the storm drainage is under way. We’re moving dirt, but keeping it on site. We’re pushing it from here to over there.”

There are currently approximately 125 workers on site, including subcontractors, working a single shift five or six days a week.

Several subcontractors are working on the project, including John Carlo Companies, which is doing the dirt work, Stan Kunas Concrete, Sauer Mechanical and Millcon Electric.

By October, Fossett expects to begin the steel work.

“We’ll have some cranes coming in here in October,” Fossett said. “We have to check on the availability of the cranes. We suspect we’ll have some rather large cranes out here. If you’re looking for a 400 ton rough terrain crane, there might be only two on the east coast of Florida. You’ve got to track them down.”

Cranes aren’t the only large thing Fossett will be using. He’s expecting to use substantial amounts of concrete.

“All the concrete will be 14 inches thick,” Fossett said. “It’s about 43,000 cubic yards — that’s if you’re perfect. We expect to use upwards of 50,000 cubic yards of concrete.”

One thing helping the job go a little easier was some up-front reconnaissance work by Mortenson’s federal contracting group, several employees who deal exclusively with government contracts.

“We spend a lot of time up-front in the project, interviewing the specific squadron that will be occupying the facility,” Fossett said. “Actually, we do a fair amount of site visits to those facilities that they’re in right now. What do you like? What don’t you like? How could it be better? How can we work with them to deliver that product to them? Our preconstruction group does a very good job of that. They make it easy for us in the field to build it. It’s a commitment to the customer.”

Fossett, who has been in the construction business for 17 years (eight with Mortenson), believes the biggest impact the project will have on the community is not the construction, but the people who will occupy the facility.

“I think the biggest thing it will bring to the surrounding community is the relocated families from Brunswick, Maine. I’m sure that will have a positive impact on the community,” said Fossett, who came down from North Carolina for the project. “It just further strengthens the position of NAS JAX in the whole military organization in that they’re spending their money on this project. It’s a commitment to the base.”

Brink sees a similar impact on the community.

“I can tell you the community here in Jacksonville is very supportive of its military,” Brink said. “With the relocating of the squadron here, it makes the military presence stronger.”

According to Capt. John C. Scorby Jr., NAS Jacksonville’s commanding officer, two World War II era hangars also have been demolished and it is building a new helicopter facility and a headquarters building for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, which will relocate from Charleston, S.C.

“We’re very excited about the future of NAS Jacksonville and construction of our new P-3 hangar will expand the capability for this base as well as the mission capability for the U.S. Navy in the upcoming years,” Scorby said. “NAS Jacksonville has a rich history — it was commissioned in 1941. These current construction projects pave the way for the future of this base. This is a very exciting time for us.” CEG

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