Navy reopens in Panhandle, but may lose history


Historic preservationists are trying to persuade the Navy to abandon its plans to demolish seven of eight homes, such as this one seen in 2003, on Admirals' Row at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Pensacola due to damage from Hurricane Ivan.

The Associated Press
Published: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
PENSACOLA - A huge training building damaged by Hurricane Ivan reopened Thursday at Pensacola Naval Air Station after $37.7 million in repairs, but some of the base's most historic structures may have to be demolished.
About 4,000 students at the Naval Aviation Technical Training Center will return next week to the almost million square-foot Chevalier Hall from 58 provisional classrooms at the "Cradle of Naval Aviation," established 91 years ago as the Navy's first air station.
Up to $570 million is expected to be spent at the base on repairs, debris clean up and new structures to replace buildings damaged beyond repair when Ivan battered the Florida Panhandle Sept. 16, said Capt. Robert Raines, commander of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command's Southern Division at Charleston, S.C.
"We're on the way back" said Capt. John Pruitt, the base commander, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside Chevalier Hall. "We're all working together to solve this problem and we're going to build a base for 2030."
Navy officials praised Broadmoor LLC of Metairie, La., for completing the Chevalier Hall repairs within 90 days of its Oct. 2 contract, a project they initially feared would take more than a year. The work included repairing a 10-acre roof, replacing 500,000 square feet of drywall and mold eradication.
The Navy's tentative blueprint calls for repairing 703 buildings, including 147 considered historic. Forty-seven historic buildings are among 106 structures proposed for demolition.
Seven of eight large houses that form "Admirals' Row" would face the wrecking ball under the plan. Some date to the 1870s when the base, then a Navy yard, built and repaired wooden warships.
The proposed demolition list also includes Building 1, constructed in 1868 as a ship carpenters' workshop and most recently used for personnel offices. Seaplane hangers built before 1920 also may be torn down.
Historic preservationists met with Navy officials Wednesday night and urged them to reconsider the demolition plans.
"We are alarmed and horrified at this proposal," said Elizabeth Merritt, deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a private advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Preservationists suggested seeking state and federal grants for repairs or "mothballing" damaged buildings for future restoration.
Pruitt said the Navy is considering those options but its first priority must be facilities needed to train aviators and technicians.
"We have to confront the fact there's finite funding to fix the base and we have to decide where to spend that," Pruitt said.
Repairs, however, are being made to Quarters A, the one home on Admirals' Row spared from the demolition list. According to legend, it is haunted by a commandant who died during a yellow fever epidemic after aides forgot to deliver the rum he drank as a tonic against the disease.
The last structure from the former town of Warrington, built as a grocery in the 1850s, also is being restored. It became Navy property when the town was moved for base expansion in 1915.

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