By David Dennis
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Most Texans know that Uvalde is the adopted hometown of John Nance Garner, 32nd vice president of the United States. There’s a state park that bears his name. The old Army Air Force base in Uvalde was named for him, too. The demise of the base in 1945 gave birth to Garner Field, Uvalde’s home for general aviation. It also gave birth to Southwest Texas Junior College.
Garner Field (KUVA) is much more than just a small-town airport. Expect a warm Texas welcome from concierge Yvonne Horrell. Ask for a tour of Mark Huffstutler’s old war birds from exhibit manager Joe Kosler. Even then, you’re only scratching the surface of what made Garner Field TxDOT’s 2012 Airport of the Year.
The biggest addition to Garner Field in 2012 was a new west-side hangar. Designed and built by Robert Lansford of the Lansford Company of Lampasas, Texas, it’s the new home for Southstar Aircraft Interiors, Inc. This unique building illustrates a partnership between the City of Uvalde and the industries that occupy space at Garner Field.
Assistant City Manager Joe Cardenas points out that “the city is very pro-airport. Through the years, the city has invested millions of dollars at Garner Field. If it grows, we all grow.” Cardenas is quick to note that the dollars that flow into the businesses at Garner Field are new money to Uvalde. “Almost 100 percent of the work performed on planes out there is from customers around the state, across the United States, and throughout the world,” he said.
The Unites States Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) air wing for South Texas is headquartered at Garner Field. By 2009, it had begun to outgrow its facilities. Because of its location, there was no room for expansion on either side of the hangar. This presented Cardenas with a problem and an opportunity. He approached Dixie Radicke, vice president of Southstar Aircraft Interiors, about the possibility of building a new hangar for Southstar and moving the CBP into her old hangar.
Radicke was in favor of the idea. Her company was already operating out of multiple facilities. The special requirements of aircraft interior replacement exceeded the capacity of her existing space. Another airport occupant, Sierra Industries LTD, also needed extra space. They wanted to occupy the hangar being vacated by CBP.
Cardenas approached the city manager, the Uvalde City Council and the Airport Advisory Board with a plan to accommodate the CBP, Southstar and Sierra Industries. Said Cardenas, “Long term for us, everybody at the airport benefitted.”
After getting final approval for the project, the city approached Robert Lansford to design and build the new hangar. “It was a team effort between my company, Terry M. Harden Architects and the Radickes. Everything is custom-designed and built to Southstar’s operations,” Lansford said. The hangar portion of the building is 20,000 square feet with an additional 13,000 square feet for workshops and offices.
Adequate space for planes was high on the list of requirements. Radicke said that the goal was to hold two Gulfstreamsize planes with five Citation-size planes around them. The span of the building and door height make it the standout at Garner Field. It’s the largest single-span hangar that Lansford has ever built. “There’s nothing cookie-cutter about this building,” Lansford laughed. “This building is a marriage of Southstar’s needs, their growth expectations for the next 30 years and the type of aircraft that they target for their business,” he added.
Besides aircraft, the building houses avionics, cabinet and upholstery shops, two specialized paint booths, storage for airplane interiors, and business offices. Holden Radicke, Southstar’s Director of Operations said, “It was amazing to see the original approved design for the building compared to what we ended up with. The building changed so much. But, there were no change orders. It stayed in budget. I’m still baffled by how Robert did it.”
The building is one of the first “green” hangars at Garner Field. “Everything we did was energy-efficient,” Lansford said. “Every wall is insulated. The west wall is double insulated. We put in low-heat glass and high-SEER air conditioning units with four zones and programmable thermostats. We also installed translucent fiberglass panels that let natural light come in. On a sunny day, you can’t tell if the lights are on or off,” he noted.
Lansford marvels at how the city dealt with the complexity of dealing with his company, the private businesses and the federal government. “What I take away from this experience is the cooperation between the city, my company and the Radickes. The partnering relationships that develop on a project like this are what makes a project successful,” he said.
Joe Cardenas added, “We’re blessed to have Sierra, CBP, Southstar and Jim Miller Aircraft Painting at our airport. They make it easy for us to go out on a limb and work for them as well,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas says that 2013 plans include two additional hangars to accommodate new businesses. “One of these businesses will generate a new market segment and client base. Everybody on the west side of the airport will definitely benefit from these new tenants,” he said. Cardenas is also working with TxDOT Aviation to extend the airport’s runway to the south.