What Tri-Citians have to say could be the deciding factor in saving an aging air traffic control tower left over from the World War II days of the Pasco Naval Air Station.
A small group is trying to drum up support to preserve the tower on the Tri-Cities Airport's east end.
Malin Bergstrom, president of Pasco's Bergstrom Aircraft, said the group is collecting letters and e-mails to take to Port of Pasco commissioners in May to show the level of support to preserve the tower.
It shouldn't be left to the port to bear the burden of preservation, Bergstrom said. The community needs to be part of the effort.
In February, the commission was considering whether to demolish the tower when Bergstrom asked for time.
Now, the port's plans for the tower are on hold after commissioners gave Bergstrom three months to gauge community interest and gather possible funding ideas, said Jim Toomey, port executive director.
The Naval Air Station was commissioned in 1942, said Bergstrom, whose company is the fixed-base operator at the Tri-Cities Airport. Pasco NAS was one of the three largest Navy training bases at the time, along with Pensacola in Florida and Corpus Christi in Texas.
The city leased the airport from the Navy in 1947 and later purchased it for $1 when the federal government declared it surplus, according to historian Walter Oberst's book Railroads, Reclamation and the River, A History of Pasco. The Port of Pasco took it over in 1962, and a new air traffic control tower was dedicated on Oct. 10, 1973.
Bergstrom said it appears the tower is the state's last original naval station tower.
It is one of several buildings left from the Naval Air Station. Toomey said the other World War II buildings still in use include the hangar next to the tower, which is home to Viper Aircraft, which builds two-seater jets.
Preserving the naval tower is something the Franklin County Historical Society has gotten behind.
Pasco's second growth spurt came during World War II with the Naval base and housing needed for Hanford, said Sherel Webb, historical society administrator. Before that, the railroad had been the source of growth.
Jim Rabideau, Franklin County Historical Society emeritus trustee, said Pasco lacks a memorial to the Naval Air Station, although the historical society does have photos of the base.
From 1942-43, the base was a primary training center for pilot cadets, Rabideau said. After that, it was where pilots returning from combat got sent as the Navy reformed squadrons and brought in new pilots.
Tri-Citians are well aware of the role Hanford played during World War II, said Marjy Leggett of Pasco.
But the significant role that the Naval Air Station played during the war doesn't have the same notice, she said.
Preserving that history, and the original control tower, is important, said Leggett, a pilot who is secretary for the Washington Pilots Association.
"The tower is symbolic of the efforts during World War II, the training that went on," she explained.
Leggett, who asked commissioners to preserve the tower in a letter, said she would like to see the tower become a museum, and maybe a cafe where historical photos from the Navy base are displayed.
Rabideau said he thinks if the tower was repaired, it could make it onto the National Register of Historic Places. Its first floor could become a small museum, he suggested.
Exactly what it would cost to rehabilitate the tower isn't known, Bergstrom said. It would require water proofing the structure.
"It's in need of a lot of attention," she said.
The tower's second and third levels aren't easily accessible and there is no elevator, Bergstrom said.
One option commissioners could consider is seeing if a nonprofit group wants to rent the tower and then handle the remodeling, Bergstrom said.
Leaks from the tower have spread to the adjacent hanger, Toomey said. Estimates showed it would cost about $60,000 to demolish the tower and about the same amount to repair it to the point that it wouldn't damage the hangar.
Preserving the tower wouldn't make it accessible to the public, Toomey said. The tower is in a secure area behind a locked gate.
Letters of support can be sent to Save the Old Tower, c/o Bergstrom Aircraft, 4102 N Stearman Ave., Pasco, WA 99301, or to Malin Bergstrom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com