Pilots cruising into Bartow Municipal Airport on weekends are once again finding a voice on the other end of their radios.
After a year’s hiatus, the control tower is back open, and it’s sporting a new coat of paint and a reinforced frame following a $120,000 renovation.
Cindy Barrow, the airport’s executive director, said personnel changes led to the tower’s closing as much as the renovations. One air traffic controller retired last year, leaving the other to work during the week and no one to work the weekends.
“That’s when we closed it on the weekends,” she said.
About that same time, work began on the tower.
“We began using a temporary tower while they worked on ours,” she said. “We were able to get that from another airport, and we were lucky it was available.”
Terry White, the airport’s assistant director, said the Bartow Municipal Airport has been using the same control tower for at least 50 years. Some pilots have said the tower went up about the time when World War II-era military pilots trained at the air base in the 1940s.
“It was ready to be refurbished,” he said. “We had replaced some of the bolts and gave it a fresh coat of paint about 12 or 15 years ago, but it was time to overhaul it.”
Crews sandblasted the geometric, open-air steel base of the control tower and replaced those sections and connectors that were rusting, Barrow said. Crews then coated the tower in fresh layers of orange and white paint.
Grants from the federal and the state departments of transportation funded the renovations, she said.
Recently, Barrow hired a second air traffic controller, paving the way for the tower to reopen on weekends once the renovations were complete. After the first of the year, controllers were assisting pilots on weekends as they landed and took off at Bartow Municipal Airport.
The tower is operating from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, along with weekdays.
Dave Clark, a Bartow pilot who uses the airport, said he’s pleased to see the tower reopen on weekends.
“I feel more comfortable knowing there is a controller up there who’s listening to other pilots and what they’re doing,” he said. “During the time when Bartow didn’t have a controller, I hated it.”
He said the controllers monitor where each aircraft is, but also keep an eye on the wind speed and direction — essential knowledge for pilots when they’re landing.
“Without those controllers, you have to fly over the field and see the way the windsock is blowing,” he said. “I’d rather have a controller telling me that information.”
The Bartow Municipal Airport has been owned by the city since it was deeded to Bartow following World War II. Built in the 1940s along U.S. 17 near Spirit Lake Road northeast of Bartow, it served as a training field for pilots during the war and remained a training center for several years after the war ended in 1945.
The city later built an industrial park next to the airport, and both are governed by the Bartow Airport Authority, which consists of the city’s five elected city commissioners.