The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

July 21, 2013

Restoring one of airbase building's identifying features

OTTUMWA — The naval air station's administration building is one step closer to looking like its old self.

The cupola — a dome-like structure that once sat atop the building — was taken down "who knows when," said Friends of NAS Ottumwa board member Mike Gretz. But the building was then re-roofed and the structure hasn't been seen since.

Stephen Black, who has spearheaded the effort to restore the administration building alongside his board members and volunteers, said he also isn't sure when the cupola was removed, but when he flew at the Ottumwa airbase in the 1970s, it wasn't there.

"But I think in 1962 there was a big storm that came through and did a lot of damage," he said. "One of the hangars was blown down so it may have been then [that the cupola came down]."

The original plans for the cupola were found at the airport, though, so Arlo Northup and Howard Cudworth set out to construct a new one, this time internally with cedar and then wrapped in aluminum. The cupola acts as the only vent opening for the roof, but it was also a distinguishing feature of the building.

On Saturday afternoon with the help of Southeast Iowa Crane, the new cupola was lifted and swung on top of the building, where volunteers helped secure it.

Volunteers also continued the sometimes seemingly never-ending sweeping and cleaning of debris inside the building.

During a tour of the first floor of the building, Black noted that while it "looks like hell," with busted walls, crumbling paint and debris, that's nothing compared to when they began the project. Paintball marks cover the walls, though there was some dispute as to whether they're connected to kids playing in the abandoned building or the urban assault training local police launched in the 1970s.

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