Naval air museum marks major construction milestone

It’s been a long haul for its supporters, but visible signs of the new Patuxent River Naval Air Museum are now showing up just outside the base’s Gate 1. And in a significant milestone, a “Topping Off” ceremony was held Monday to mark the final truss being put in place. Now the striking wing-like roof line, which heretofore could be seen only in architectural drawings, is now a visible to passersby.

Del. John Bohanan (D: 29-B) pointed out that the original Navy Museum building was scheduled for demolition for the Route 235 widening and there was a real possibility the museum and its collection would go away too. He said Keith Fairfax was given to the task of saving the museum, which then moved into its current temporary building. Bohanan said that many volunteers on the museum board had taken on the challenge over many years. For the project to happen the federal government kicked in more than $3 million, the state and county $1 million each and the community contributed an additional $1 million through the museum board fundraising.

Bohanan also noted the support for the museum by the late J. Frank Raley and thanked Commissioner President Jack Russell and Commissioners Todd Morgan and Cindy Jones for supporting the dedicating of the road in front of the museum in the late senator’s honor. 

The museum project hit significant wind turbulence when the original contractor was charged by the county with supplying “fraudulent performance bonds.” Last year a new contract was awarded to Biscayne Contractors. The new contract needed state approval, but things are now on a course for a Valentine’s Day 2015 groundbreaking, according to the county’s Director of Public Works and Transportation George Erichsen. 

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D: MD 5th) was on hand for the Topping Off ceremony. He said, “This is going to be an asset for this community.” He added, “It’s a great day for St. Mary’s County, a great day for the Navy and a great day for the community.”

Patuxent River Naval Air Museum Association Board of Directors member Joe Dunn acted as MC for the event. He said a Topping Off ceremony historically is “considered a major milestone for any building.” He noted the frustrating history of the project: “We could use a little luck. There is no stopping is now.” He said the museum would be a “major tourist attraction” for St. Mary’s County.

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Vice Commander Capt. Christopher Junge, representing the Navy, noted his recent trip to Chicago, which he said holds its architecture in high esteem. He said Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the master architect there just as two other Wrights, Wilbur and Orville, were the pioneers of flight. He said just as architecture tells the history of cities, planes tell the history of Naval Aviation. The new building, he said would be the venue for telling naval aviation’s history.

Representatives of the architect, the WRL Design Firm, and the contractor Biscayne also spoke. The roof trusses were supplied by R&R Fabrication of Prince Frederick. As the audience watched, a crane lifted the 11th and final 12,500-pound truss into place.

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