The Air Force is committed to spending $3 billion during the next five years to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, including an initial investment of at least $40 million by the end of 2019, senior service officials announced at a community forum Thursday.
Bay County officials said the ambitious reconstruction effort likely will create between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs, a major economic boon to the hard-pressed civilian community.
“We are fully committed to the rebuilding of Tyndall Air Force Base,” said John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy. A formal master plan for the base’s recovery from Hurricane Michael will be sent to Congress this spring that will guide the Air Force’s funding requests, he said.
Henderson and other Air Force officials on Thursday spent several hours detailing the damage the base suffered from the storm, and their blueprints for transforming the 80-year-old base into a state-of-the-art military facility that will meet the service’s requirements well into the next century. The first-of-its-kind “Tyndall Industry Day” attracted an audience of almost 500 people to the Holley Center at Florida State University-Panama City.
Addressing his remarks to the array of local political leaders and construction industry executives in the hall, Henderson said, “We cannot do this without your help. We have some immense challenges in front of us.”
Even though federal leaders from President Trump to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson previously stated their support for restoring Tyndall to a state-of-the-art air base, the forum at FSU-PC left a number of local officials breathing a deep sigh of relief.
“There’s no doubt of their commitment,” said Bay County Commissioner Robert Carroll, who also chairs the county’s Long-Term Recovery Task Force. “We’re getting our opportunity to rebuild.”
Rep. Neal Dunn confirmed to the audience that rebuilding Tyndall has strong bipartisan support in Congress.
“The will is there, the votes are there in the Senate, and the votes are there in the House,” he said.
Two officials from the base Program Management Office — which is directing the massive recovery operation — stressed that the pace of activity will be unprecedented. Noting the Air Force intends to station several squadrons of the F-35 joint strike fighter at Tyndall in four years, PMO Director Col. Scott Matthews warned, “To meet that deadline of 2023, we cannot do business as usual.”
“The days of building a facility and taking six to eight months to fit it out are gone,” Matthews added.
The central message delivered to construction industry leaders on Thursday was that the Air Force plans to rely heavily on civilian expertise in the planning and design of the new infrastructure, not just in the construction area.
“We are calling it ‘combat planning’ — standard planning, but fast,” said Amy Vandeveer, senior planner for the PMO.
The Air Force is pushing to complete initial redevelopment plans in April in order to meet the deadline for issuing construction contracts by the beginning of the next fiscal year on Sept. 30, she said.
Vandeveer touched on a number of concepts the Air Force is interested in bringing to the recovery effort, including a flight line designed not just for the F-35, but for future aircraft not yet even on the drawing board.
“The life of an F-35 is about 30 years,” she said. “This base will last for 80 years.” Other options include building a “campus” design for the enlisted housing area; stressing multi-use designs for new buildings, and aircraft shelters that — in her words — “won’t blow away.”
The Tyndall forum drew high marks from local officials.
“This is the beginning of an historic recovery,” Bay County Defense Alliance Chairman Tom Neubauer said of the Tyndall forum.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said the event itself is an excellent harbinger of things to come.
“This has been unique,” he told reporters. “The community has never seen a gathering of such talent.”
The Air Force soon will launch a website — www.afimsc.af.mil/tyndallpmo — that will be dedicated to the Tyndall recovery, which will serve as a resource guide for businesses and contractors interested in working on the recovery. Base officials also announced tentative plans to hold a second “Tyndall Industry Day” event in May as the recovery planning matures.
© 2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)
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