One year from today, the Eagle Valley Enterprise cover will likely feature a story about the grand opening for the new $33.5 million Colorado Army National Guard High-altitude Aviation Training Site facility at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
This week, the new HAATS building celebrated its topping out ceremony - the moment when the highest piece of structural steel was put in place at the new 101,600-square-foot facility. The ceremony marked a mid-point, of sorts, in the ambitious construction schedule.
Back in August, Colorado Army National Guard awarded the $33.5 million construction contract to Hensel Phelps Construction Co., of Greeley. The company estimated the project would take approximately 790 days to complete the job and groundbreaking was celebrated on Sept. 22. Hensel Phelps Construction Co. estimates the structure will be finished on April 11, 2013.
For HAATS commander Lt. Col. Josh Day, having a new 100,000-square-foot building means that, at last, the physical plant associated with the operation will match the top-notch HAATS instructional program. Helicopters from around the globe travel to HAATS for instruction in high altitude maneuvers.
HAATS trains military rotary-wing pilots from around the world in power management and teaches pilots the skills necessary to operate their aircraft routinely and safely at maximum gross weights in any environment - especially at high altitudes. This mission provides life-saving combat skills to American and allied pilots serving in mountainous Afghanistan and other challenging environments worldwide.
HAATS is the only Department of Defense-approved facility that conducts high-altitude/power management/environmental training. HAATS trains all branches and components of the military, and currently has a full-time Coast Guard instructor assigned to the staff, making HAATS a unique joint training site. When combined with the existing facility, the new facility will enable all mission sets and training to be conducted to standard well into the future.
"The new building aspect is going to be really nice for the students," said Lt. Col. Day. "But for us, the other side of the building is what we are excited about - having hanger bays to store and maintain our aircraft, and office space for personnel."
Lt. Col. Day said that last year 425 pilots completed training at HAATS. Additionally, he noted nearly that many support people attended HAATS. He said the new facilities are not designed to expand HAATS programming, but rather to accommodate the number of pilots who already attend the school.
"It is not going to alter what we do or how we do it. But it is going to allow us to train pilots in a better facility," said Lt. Col. Day. "You would also think that it will keep us at the Eagle County Regional Airport for a long time. We are designing this building to last 60-plus years."
When completed, the 101,600-square-foot HAATS facility will include:
• Five classrooms
• Four hangar bays for aircraft
• An aircraft maintenance shop
• 36 lodging rooms for HAATS students
• Office space for HAATS administration
• A flight operations area
• Numerous site improvements, such as grading, utility services to the facility, control gates, a parking lot, access roads, concrete aprons, helicopter tie-down pads, dry stack stone feature wall and landscaping.
Additionally there is a pad outside of the building for a stationary helicopter display and more display space inside the building. "We are working with the Colorado Ski Museum and the 10th Mountain Division to get some historical artifacts," said Lt. Col. Day.
The project will be constructed to achieve at least a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver rating, fully certified through the U.S. Green Building Council. Planning for the new facility started in 2005 and was done in close coordination with Eagle County, the Eagle County Airport and the town of Gypsum.