In recent years, the decrepit buildings and air traffic control tower on the base have attracted vandals who have damaged the tower and stolen contents from vacant buildings.
In response, NASA, which owns 176 acres of the former airfield, will begin work next month to tear down most of the structures, the oldest of which date to the 1940s. The air traffic control tower will remain intact.
Officials of Stanislaus County, which owns the rest of the 1,528-acre airbase just three miles south of Patterson, plan to convert it into an industrial park.
According to James Schalkwyk, a spokesman from NASA Ames Research Center, most of the buildings will be demolished down to the foundations within 60 days.
Schalkwyk wrote in an email that it will “lessen NASA’s liability.”
Schalkwyk reported that asbestos removal is expected to begin in the last week of March at the former airfield, which is west of Highway 33 between Fink and Marshall roads, between Patterson and Crows Landing. Demolition is slated for April.
All of the work is taking place on Parcel C, an 81-acre section of the land still owned by NASA.
The county acquired the bulk of the airbase from NASA in 2004 after the space agency acquired it from the U.S. Navy a decade earlier as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Base Closure and Realignment Process.
When the U.S. Navy completes environmental cleanup work to remove ordnance from the land and chemicals in the groundwater, the remaining acreage will be transferred to Stanislaus County. Some of the land is expected to change hands this year.
Parcel C will be the final portion of the property transferred to the county. It would take eight years to cleanse under a recommended proposal that U.S. Navy officials discussed in February 2012 as they sought public comments regarding the cleanup process.
While NASA plans to tear down most of the Parcel C buildings, including the former officers club and several storage buildings, the control tower and airfield lighting vault will be left in place, Schalkwyk said. The vault contains the power supply and controls for the airfield’s lighting system.
Underground infrastructure, such as sewers, drains and vaults, will also remain.
Turlock Irrigation District will remove the electrical power feed to the airfield before demolition begins, Schalkwyk said.
None of the demolition work will involve the county-owned property, much of which is leased for farming to Modesto-based Melvin T. Wheeler & Sons.
Keith Boggs, Stanislaus County assistant executive officer, said county staff members are preparing a list of possible alternative approaches for handling the property after no one applied to develop the airfield into a business park by a Feb. 1 deadline.
He expects the board of supervisors to talk about options in April.
Boggs said he was glad NASA planned to demolish the buildings. Because of the airfield’s isolated location, he said, vandals potentially could see sheriff’s deputies from miles away and escape before they arrived.
Many of the buildings have decayed in recent years, and people have shot out the windows of the control tower and stolen copper wire and other items.
“We want to make this as least obvious to vandals as we possibly can,” Boggs said. “This is a good idea for the long run. It’s a great idea for safety.”
Airfield’s long history
The Crows Landing Naval Auxiliary Landing Field was commissioned May 25, 1943, and initially housed about 1,500 sailors for the U.S. Navy.
Though the base was largely abandoned in late 1946, with many of its buildings hauled away, it returned to active use in 1951 during the Korean War.
The airfield was used as a landing practice ground to prepare pilots from other Navy bases to land on aircraft carriers until NASA acquired the property in 1994.
NASA set up a small facility at the edge of the base in the 1970s to house a microwave landing system and occasionally tested unique experimental aircraft at the base.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department still uses the airstrip for occasional vehicle training exercises, but it does not have a constant presence there.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com.