2016-03-25 / Front Page

What to do with airport’s tower?

It’s a challenge to find occupant for Brunswick facility
Times Record Staff

THE EXTERIOR of the Navy’s newer control tower at the former base, now abandoned, as seen in 2014. 
JOHN SWINCONECK /TIMES RECORD FILE PHOTO THE EXTERIOR of the Navy’s newer control tower at the former base, now abandoned, as seen in 2014. JOHN SWINCONECK /TIMES RECORD FILE PHOTO Brunswick Landing, site of a former military base, has had a lot of success in converting itself for civilian use. Southern Maine Community College, for example, has moved into spaces that once housed a hospital and officer’s quarters. Oxford Networks’ secure data center has taken up residency in a former Navy communications center.

Rebranding something like a military air traffic control facility, however, will take a bit of imagination and creative marketing.

There are two control towers on either side of the parallel 8,000-foot runways at Brunswick Executive Airport, which was once the heart and soul of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. Neither are used as operational control towers today, but the older tower adjacent to the hangars is home to the airport’s fixed base operator.

What to do with the newer tower, built in 2005 to house radar and tower operations, remains a conundrum.

The facility only functioned for five years before the last P- 3 Orion departed. The radar unit not far from the tower was turned off and Brunswick Naval Air Station would never be a controlled airfield again.

Clearly visible from Bath Road, the like-new building houses about 15,000 square feet including the tower cab, which is roughly the size of a conference room.

Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Steve Levesque admits it’s a challenging property for which to find an occupant, but points out that many structures on the former base were built for a singular purpose.

“The tower is an interesting building. It has some real nice office space on the ground floor, but it has the tower and the air control cab. The whole facility was used for both local air traffic control for the airport plus regional traffic,” Levesque said.

Levesque said MRRA has already approached the Federal Aviation Administration to see if they had any interest in locating an air traffic control school there.

“They haven’t really responded, so it was a long shot on that,” Levesque said.

Levesque said the FAA originally said they were planning on turning the facility into a regional terminal radar approach control facility, but decided against the idea. Levesque said the FAA decided it was too much to move their people and there may have been some union issues in the mix as well.

Unlike the former Navy Exchange, a shell that will soon be outfitted to serve as a Wayfair call center with 500 employees, Levesque sees potential markets for special projects.

“If a company wants to do some testing and operations, some research and development stuff, that would be a good remote site to do that,” Levesque said. “The building is really nice. It’s got some real nice offices and you could have a headquarters operation.”

In addition, there’s a taxiway that goes right up to the facility and there’s room for a hangar. Levesque said it would be ideal for a government agency or a private company that requires a level of privacy.

Levesque said the out-of-the-way location of the facility lends itself to maintenance, aviation-related activities or even a cybersecurity center. Current TechPlace tenant MVP Aero is currently developing a multi-use aircraft, however, Levesque said they are about three years out from having an actual flying prototype.

Levesque said that the cab of the control tower does not have direct access to the building’s elevator, but that it would make a nice conference room for the facility. Still, the functionality of the space is secondary to the view.

“You go up there you go, wow, that’s cool. It’s neat, but after that it is what it is. It’s just an open room that you take stairs up to,” Levesque said.

Therein lies the challenge. Computers, radar and communications equipment have all been removed by the Navy and the building will remain as a lease opportunity as it is considered part of the airport and cannot be sold.

Access is anticipated to improve over time as Levesque anticipates a road coming in through Pine Street to that side of the airfield.

“These buildings were built to serve the military,” Levesque said, “and they’re not all as easily converted as some.”


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