The chapel at Tyndall AFB, Fla., remains a pile of rubble following a demolition project at the installation on Feb. 11, 2019. The chapel was left in shambles after the base took a direct hit from Hurricane Michael, a category 4 storm. Air Force photo by SrA. Javier Alvarez.
Air Force officials are crafting a new master plan to rebuild Tyndall AFB, Fla. after finding many of the bases’ structures once thought salvageable may be demolished instead.
“The video flyover from drones and both the helicopters, you look at a building and it looks perfectly intact,” Col. Scott Matthews, the Tyndall Program Management Office director, said at a Jan. 31 industry day in Panama City, Fla. “You walk inside … the roof is completely intact, the second floor, the offices look like you left it that day and went home – nothing is touched. The bottom floor’s completely gone.”
About 450 participants from nearly 200 companies gathered for their first major update on the Air Force’s projected way forward since the Florida Panhandle’s base was devastated by Hurricane Michael last October. The new master plan is expected to start in the next year or two.
Officials believe fully restoring the base will take up to five years and around $3 billion. Of the nearly 700 facilities and about 480 buildings spread across 4.2 million square feet, all need work.
According to Matthews’ timeline, the service is first clearing debris and assessing the true damage to the base, and is in the early stages of making permanent repairs and planning for the major reconstruction effort. Some groups will sit in temporary buildings as abandoned facilities are torn down until this fall, when new construction is expected to start.
Forty-four percent of buildings require repairs, while 17 percent face immediate demolition, according to the Air Force’s initial review of the base’s condition. About 40 percent will be assessed as part of the master plan, which could include more demolition before starting new construction.
Among the facilities originally thought salvageable: the main civil engineering building, the F-22’s munitions equipment storage building, and the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron administration building. The service has already recommended about 70,000 square feet of facilities be torn down, with more to come.
More than 200 buildings have received temporary roofs so far — an effort complicated by a tornado that ripped through the base in January and high winds that tore off some of the white coverings and broke 23 windows. Another 135 buildings were treated for mold growing in the aftermath of 8- to 12-foot storm surges.
The volume of fallen trees, trashed display aircraft and other debris collected so far at Tyndall would fit into 16.5 US Capitol rotundas, the Air Force said. The main base is cleared, but more debris remains.
“One step forward, two steps back,” Matthews said.
The service now envisions Tyndall as its first true “21st-century” installation, complete with a “community commons” that acts as a one-stop shop for errands, buildings that can serve multiple purposes in case of emergencies, and new construction techniques to shield it from future storms.
The Air Force will draw on how other facilities in hurricane-prone areas, like Miami International Airport, stand up to nearly 200 mph winds.
“There’s a smaller group looking at things like, what do we believe the final floor height should be on all facilities. … Is the sea level going to rise?” Matthews said in a recent interview with Air Force Magazine. “We can go to be something more stringent than the local building codes. … What does energy resiliency look like?”
They hope to design a more walkable base that meets the needs of military spouses, veterans, and children as well as warfighters. Those ideas could be replicated to make other bases more sustainable, particularly those affected by other natural disasters, Matthews said.
Matthews hopes to get started on three projects, potentially worth $40 million in total, by the end of September. He declined to say what each project entails but said they are looking at facilities away from the flight line.
The Air Force will prioritize which buildings it wants to restore first based on timing, to get easier projects underway faster. Those that need to go through congressionally mandated environmental reviews would push other projects without the same needs to the front, like dormitories or child-development centers.
Amy Vandeveer, a senior planner in the Tyndall PMO, noted at the industry day that the majority of rebuilding will take place at and around the flight line. More missions could fit on the flight line by reorganizing the facilities that are housed there.
“In some cases, the ability to do single-point maintenance in a weather shelter that won’t blow away in a storm may be the answer,” Vandeveer said of more efficient, cheaper facilities. “In other scenarios, it may be combining ops and maintenance into a single facility.”
Other organizations, like the maintainers that restore low-observable aircraft coatings, may work out of temporary tents as a new campus is built.
“We’re looking at what mission-related facilities we need for the F-35,” Matthews added. “Where would they need to be on the flight line? What are some of the existing missions, like the Weapons Evaluation Group? Where are they today? Where could they go?”
Still, those decisions won’t be entirely dependent on mission priorities. Matthews wonders whether, because the effort is such a huge, unique undertaking, stakeholders in Washington will need to weigh in as well.
He added some contractors are hesitant to accept construction jobs with the federal government because of the additional administrative burden, the drawn-out background-check process, and more stringent requirements for workers. He said he is open to loosening building standards and base-access requirements to speed the rebuilding process, but said security restrictions can’t be waived in some instances, like when dealing with the F-35 program.
Although Tyndall is losing its F-22 mission, the base is set to house F-35s and potentially MQ-9s. The hurricane’s destruction offers planners an opportunity to draw up improved layouts that may require a smaller footprint and lower costs when new aircraft join the base.
“When we put the master plan together, we want to incorporate all future missions that we think may be here in the near or long term,” Matthews said. “Instead of building maybe a hangar that only services one type of aircraft, can we do a multi-use hangar, and what would that look like? How big would that need to be?”
On Feb. 14, Virginia’s congressional delegation wrote to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson asking her to permanently move the F-22s to JB Langley-Eustis, Va. to take advantage of facility space, squadron efficiencies, and training opportunities. F-22s are temporarily located at Eglin AFB, Fla. while the Air Force considers future basing options.
“While Joint Base Langley-Eustis currently has two F-22 squadrons, as well as supporting maintenance units, it was built for the beddown of three squadrons,” the 13 bipartisan lawmakers wrote. “It is thereby underutilizing the airspace and Air Force investment in ramp, hangar, and operations support facilities. … Additionally, the Virginia Air National Guard stands uniquely positioned to support the [formal training units], with experienced instructors and maintainers well-versed on the platform.”
Officials are still considering how they might pay to save Tyndall. Wilson could tap into operations and maintenance funds, up to $15 million of which can be spent to recover from natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Reprogramming the money is a less likely option, Matthews said, since the military construction budget is so tight to begin with.
The service isn’t sure how its early $3 billion cost estimate might change as its master plan comes to fruition. The price of construction materials typically spikes after major storms, Matthews said, and he isn’t sure how the market will play out.
Matthews noted Wilson has an overall supplemental figure for how much money the Air Force thinks it needs to recover from the most recent hurricane season. An Air Force spokeswoman did not provide that figure by press time.
“For the O&M dollars that I discussed, that $200 [million], $300 million range, they’ve asked us to continue to refine that so we have an idea of the types of things that would be rolled up in that number,” like repairs, planning services, requirements development, temporary facilities, and more, Matthews said.
To be able to award contracts for Fiscal 2019 projects, Matthews said they have to start the contracting process by the end of April. A second industry day centered on facility and infrastructure design, construction, community partnerships and program management is planned for May.
Matthews also expects to spend about $300 million on the first round of projects in Fiscal 2020.
“We’re finding that what we thought was the condition of the building is not, and that’s why this master planning and bringing you all together to help us … is going to be critical,” he said at the industry day.