Officials Optimistic to Add Radar Dome to Historic Register

With the Texarkana Regional Airport now possessing a historic Cold War site, of which there are only seven still existing in the country, some recognition may be in order.

At least that's the verdict of at least two Texarkana, Ark., city officials during a recent Airport Authority Board meeting. Arkansas-side City Planner Mary Beck and Assistant City Planner Kayla Flovin approached the board about the possibility of placing the airport's former Air Force radar dome on the National Register of Historic Places, the Texarkana Gazette reported.

The 64-year-old gigantic fiberglass-and-steel golf ball-looking structure -- vacated by the Air Force more than 50 years ago -- still stands on airport property as one of only seven in the country. Of these, five are still operating, while one in California now serves as a wildlife habitat. The Texarkana-based dome remains abandoned, as it has been since 1983, when the Federal Aviation Administration vacated it. Prior to that, the Air Force used the radar station to detect, track and monitor potential Soviet military air activity between 1955 and 1968. By 1968, military satellite tracking had rendered the golf ball-shaped dome obsolete.

Beck said that to qualify for the national historical registry, a structure has to be at least 50 years old. She added that the immediate need for historical registry nomination would be to get the dome clean and moderately repaired.

"Right now, we can't ask the Texas side to jointly nominate it with us (both cities actually own the airport) until we clean it up," Beck said.

Flovin, herself an Air Force veteran, said that placement on the nation's historical registry would not only qualify the site to receive federal preservation grant funding, it would also help recognize the legacy and valor of all service personnel who participated in the nation's defense during the Cold War, which lasted roughly between 1945 and 1989.

Board member Wes Jordan expressed concern about the potential costs of long-term refurbishment the structure might need, particularly while planning for a new passenger terminal with an estimated cost upward of $37 million.

"I'm skeptical of the potential cost of this preservation project, when considering the other needs we have," Jordan said. "I don't think we need to consider putting it on the register until we know for sure what the possible risks and costs in the future will bring."

Airport Board Chairman Matt Robertson said the board could go ahead and approve site cleanup conducted by the Arkansas side.

Beck said a group of Texas A&M University students are looking at participating in a cleanup effort for the dome on April 13.

Following some additional discussion, board members approved of the city's cleanup efforts going forward.

Back in April 2010, former members of the Air Force's 703rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron -- stationed at the Texarkana Airport between 1955 and 1968 -- formed a historical museum association to explore turning their former Texarkana site into a national Cold War museum, according to the Airport Board's Property and Facilities Committee records.

The committee met later to discuss the association's interest in refurbishing and converting the vintage Air Force radar station into a museum, but the committee concluded the airport itself didn't have the funds to assist the association in its efforts to restore the old radar site.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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