WESTFIELD – The city and Barnes Air National Guard Base are already making the right moves to help the base, its $225 million economic impact and 3,813 jobs survive any looming Pentagon budget cuts.
That’s what Westfield residents heard Monday at a community forum hosted by the state Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force at the North Middle School auditorium. Examples include a cooperatively funded $23.4 million comprehensive infrastructure improvement plan, child-care for drilling service members, and a planned aviation program at Westfield Vocational Technical High School.
It’s the first of a series of forums to be hosted by the task force. The Westover Air Reserve Base meeting is set for 4:30 to 6 p.m. May 27 at Westover Metropolitan Airport, 255 Padgett St., Chicopee.
Adam Freudberg, policy director to Gov. Deval Patrick and executive director of the task force, explained how the state’s $177 million military bond bill, parts of which passed just hours before the meeting, will help Barnes, Westover and other bases.
Barnes is to get $9 million of the $177 million for the infrastructure as part of that $23.4 million infrastructure plan. That included a new runway that was also paid for by the city, the federal National Guard Bureau and the Federal Aviation Administration. None of the three could have or would have funded the project on their own, Freudberg said.
The runway project opened late last year. Work on phase two, which will get $7 million of the $9 million in the bond bill, starts this summer and will include more work to plane parking areas and taxiways.
On Monday, the state’s Congressional Delegation announced another $270,000 in FAA money for the Barnes taxiway as well as $150,000 toward eight new taxiway signs at Westover Metropolitan Airport and Westover Air Reserve Base. Orange Municipal Airport will get $198,000 to rehabilitate runways.
Freudberg said FAA money, building up the infrastructure, is work the military doesn’t have to do. For example, the bond bill also allows MassDevelopment to help bases get cheaper utilities and for MassDevelopment to help bring in private tenants.
State Sen. Donald Humason, R-Westfield, said the state needs to make its bases efficient, multi-use and diverse with other entities including private industry handling the bill.
“If we are the most efficient, we can make these bases BRAC proof,” said Humason, whose district includes Barnes and extends to across the street from Westover, when referring to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission many fear. “It is about community support. If our colleagues in Washington see that a base doesn’t have community support, goodby, it’s over.”
Some of that support means providing a workforce, said Christopher J. Willenborg, administrator of the MassDot Aeronautics Division. The DOT is in the early stages of setting up an aircraft technology shop program at Westfield Vocational Technical High School.
Students will soon shadow workers at Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. which has about 230 people working at its expanded jet maintenance facility at Barnes. The state has about 60 aircraft maintenance businesses.
“There is a crying need,” Willenborg said.
The shop is about a year or so from opening and would be a pilot program for others in technical high schools around Massachusetts.
William R. Parks, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield, described how the club provides fun and educational activities to the children of National Guard members during drill weekends at Barnes.