Warfare Systems Center breaks ground for new building

Charleston Post and Courier
July 1, 2000

By this time next year, visitors to the Charleston Naval Weapons Station Southside may do a double-take at the sight of a new engineering center at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center.

The reason? The new building will have an airport control tower sitting out front, even though the building (and everything else nearby) is miles from any air base.

“I hope the Air Force doesn’t confuse this with an airfield,” said a smiling Navy Capt. James H. Hoffman last week. “I don’t think the roads around here can support a C-17.”

Hoffman commands the Navy’s SPAWAR center, a high-tech engineering outfit that occupies several buildings at the weapons station. He spoke at a ground-breaking ceremony for the building, which will house SPAWAR’S Air Traffic Control Systems Engineering Division. Moments earlier, Tate Seabrook, civilian head of the division, explained why he was so happy to see construction begin.

Unlike a number of military organizations in recent years, SPAWAR has been growing since it escaped the Pentagon’s base closure ax in 1993.

“We have more than 100 people scattered throughout 11 buildings,” including trailers and pre-fabs, Seabrook said. The employees are hot in the summer, cold in the winter and never able to work in a laboratory-like setting as they should. Worse, there simply isn’t enough room for them.

The new building, on the other hand, will cover 38,700 square feet divided into two sections. Half will be devoted to engineering support work while the other half will be equipped with labs. The Navy should recover the new building’s $7.2 million price tag in utility savings within about four years, Seabrook said.

Seabrook’s division is important to shore-based Navy and Marine Corps aviators. It’s where the Navy acquires, designs, develops and manages the installation of new communications and radar equipment for its airfields. In fact, a working radar approach control antenna sits atop a structure nearby.

The antenna’s presence is part of the overall reason the Navy is building a control tower miles from the nearest airfield. The tower will help engineers be sure the equipment they’re developing really fits into the available space.

The ceremony also allowed Hoffman an opportunity to present Seabrook with the Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award. Later, Seabrook thanked everyone who helped get the new construction moving, adding that the only thing that will make him happier is a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

If all goes according to plan, that should occur next summer.

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