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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City Gateway Airport Enters The 21st Century With A New And Improved Air Terminal

A massive downpour did not dampen the spirits of those inside the new air terminal. A new private jet stands by as the terminal was dedicated late yesterday afternoon.

LAKE CITY, FL – A torrent of rain could not dampen the spirits of the folks that came out to celebrate the grand opening of the new and improved Lake City Gateway Airport Terminal late yesterday afternoon. Public officials, Judges, the State Attorney and regular people came to admire the new state of the art terminal. Don Ramdass, the program manager of Passero Associates, the firm that oversaw the design and building of the terminal, was all smiles as everyone applauded the new terminal.

Dennille Decker, Ex. Dir. of the Chamber and a star where ever she goes, introduced the program.

The Florida Department of Transportation financed $1.825 million of the project with money from the Florida Aviation Trust Fund, whose revenue source is fuel and aviation excise and use taxes on aviation fuel and aircraft.

According to Roland Luster of the Florida DOT, "We are one of the few states that put all the funds raised through aviation back into aviation. Most states put the money back into the general revenue stream. In Florida, we are able to put it back into the airports - projects and improvements."

Mr. Luster continued, "We get about $120 million statewide a year. The state is broken up into seven different DOT districts. Obviously the larger areas get more. We meet once a year with our airports. We have what they call a master plan; it has all our projects and future projects -- the direction we want to go. We sit down and talk with the airports and decide which projects we are going to fund and which projects we're not."

Mr. Luster explained the Florida DOT relationship with the FAA, "The FAA also funds projects. We try to coordinate with the FAA. They pretty much try to stick with safety and security type projects. Our goal is to try and make the airports self-sufficient so they are not a tax burden on the people."

Airport Manager, Nick Harwell (left) and Mayor Steve Witt are all smiles. In the background, Michelle Giannosa and Lisa Tally of FL Crown join in the good cheer.

The FAA, the Federal Aviation Authority, funded $730,000 of the project and funded much of the airport safety and security.

The City of Lake City came up with about $600,000 of hometown financing for the airport project.

On the Ground, Lake City Airport Manager, Nick Harwell, oversaw the construction of the new terminal and was all smiles at the grand opening.

 Airport History

In 1934, some of the citizens of Lake City organized a flying club and established an airfield, which sometime after it was formed, moved to a site east of the city. Two small runways were built before WWII and Lake City Airport was born.

In May of 1942, the Navy took over the field and began construction of a naval air station.

In August of 1942, an instructor’s school was established at Green Cove Springs. Then was moved to Lake City. The base had only been partially completed. The commissioning of the station occurred on December 8, 1942, under the Naval Air Operational Training Command.

For those that remember the 60's, a Vietnam era helicopter is being restored at the airport. If you listen carefully, you can hear the wack - wack - wack of the blades.

In January of 1943, an Operational Training Unit, VB2 #2, was formed in Jacksonville and began training at Lake City with the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura and some Lockheed PBO Hudson’s. The Navy eventually incorporated the instructor’s school  into the Training Unit.

In September 1942, the Navy had requisitioned 27 Lockeed Venturas destined for the British and designated the aircraft the PV-3. By January of 1944, twenty PV-3’s were in Lake City. The Training Unit also operated as many as twenty Lockeed SNB’s for instructor training and the total number of Lockeed aircraft in the unit peaked at sixty-five.

The Lake City training unit stayed operational until March of 1946, when its aircraft and personnel transferred to Hutchinson, Kansas and Whiting Field, Florida.

Part of the plaque on the control tower: A different time in America; a different America. (Observer photo)

In addition to the PV’s, the station operated two R4D’s, a GH Howard, and several SNJ’s and Stearmans. The number of aircraft peaked at 80 by the spring of 1945.  There was also an assembly and repair department.

By that time the airport had four asphalt runways with the longest at 7,100 feet. Station personnel consisted of 294 officers; 1128 enlisted men; 266 civilians with barracks available for 302 officers and 1622 enlisted men.

Shortly after construction began, Nick Harwell stands atop the airport control tower. In the background is Timco; out of frame is the beginning of the new terminal.

Modern Times

By 2009, Lake City Municipal Airport had both an 8,000 ft and 4,100 foot runway with instrument approaches for use in inclement weather conditions; a City owned and operated Fixed Base Operation; and hangers for various private and corporate jet aircraft.

The U.S. Forestry Service Division operates a fire fighting unit based on the air field.

There are commercial businesses located on the field, the largest being TIMCO, which performs contract maintenance on government and commercial airliners for Boeing. TIMCO occupies 114 acres. Employment has varied depending on the economy.

Florida Gateway College, formerly known as Lake City Community College, is also located on land which was part of the original air station.

The City maintains the runways and aprons of the airport and continues development.

The New Terminal features a pilot's lounge with shower facilities, a large conference room for up to thirty, and a TSA secure room.

The conference room can be rented for $50 for a half day and $100 for a full day. The airport staff will set up the room for no additional charge.

The conference room features surround sound, a projector, a large monitor and has a kitchenette and cabinet storage.

The City leases a new car for courtesy use by pilots so they can get to Lake City while their aircraft are being refueled or serviced.

If the rain would have stopped and the tarmac had begun to dry, this would have been the view of the new terminal as the sun went down and glistened on the roof. (Click here to enlarge)

The Observer thanks Airport Manager Nick Harwell for his assistance with the historical history of the airport.

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