The oldest building still standing at Red Deer Regional Airport and the home of the flying club for decades may soon be lost.
Red Deer Regional Airport said the cost of maintaining the building is climbing and the land the Red Deer Flying Club’s clubhouse is sitting on is needed to expand a nearby tarmac.
The airport authority-owned building is built around a two-storey wooden-frame tower built to house navigation electronic equipment in the 1930s.
“It’s been a very-used building for many decades. It’s pre-World War II and I think it has a lot of historical significance to many people across the country,” said flying club president Kirk Seaborn.
Two homes built a few years after the tower to house the technicians who maintained the navigation equipment are also slated for demolition to allow for the expansion of the airport parking lot.
The flying club has been given until June 1 to move out.
While the club hopes to save its clubhouse, it will not be homeless. Red Deer vehicle dealership owner and pilot Gord Scott has offered space in his nearby hangar for the flying club and the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).
The civilian pilots who volunteer for CASARA are specially trained to fly grid patterns and other search techniques and the organization would rather stay put than move to the hangar, which will require some renovations to accommodate the group.
“When we get a call from the military they expect us to be in the air within an hour,” said Jim Thoreson, a longtime CASARA volunteer and former president of the flying club.
During major exercises, the clubhouse is filled with civilian and military search organizers. A 2018 search exercise involved nearly 90 people, 19 planes and a military helicopter from CFB Cold Lake.
Red Deer Regional Airport CEO Graham Ingham said the airport spends about $10,000 to $15,000 each year on the building — leased to the flying club for a $1 a year — and additional repair and maintenance costs are looming.
“The building is getting quite old and we continue to sink a lot of money into it and we’re at the point where we can’t continue to do that anymore,” said Ingham. “We just can’t continue to pump taxpayers’ dollars into this building.”
Ingham said he has offered the Harvard Historical Aviation Society, which is also housed at the facility, first dibs on the buildings, but any of them would have to be moved at its cost.
The airport would consider donating the cost of demolition, which would likely be less than $10,000. An informal estimate Ingham got suggested moving costs alone would be around $75,000. Putting the building on a new foundation and servicing would add much more to the bill.
A call for expressions of interest was posted on the airport’s Facebook page on Wednesday and says all proposals received before May 15 will be reviewed with the expectation that the building is removed by July 15.
Those who may be interested are warned that “it must be understood that these buildings could be difficult to move, due to their size and age. As a result, there may be significant costs and effort associated with this opportunity.”
Ingham said the airport has provided financial and other support to the flying club and historical society over the years and recognizes their importance and contributions to the airport.
Harvard Historical Aviation Society president Jodi Smith said the society has expressed its interest in saving the building, but is still waiting for a response from the airport.
“We still haven’t heard from the airport if they are going to entertain our interest or if they’re going to look to someone else,” she said.
“Obviously, there was a budget for the destruction of all three buildings. So, I’m hoping there is an opportunity to discuss whether that could go towards moving.”
The society does not have much time and will be looking for any help it can get to save the building.
“We’re hoping. We have some legwork to do as well. It will come down a lot to the public interest and what we can secure in order to move it.”
Smith said any who are interested in efforts to preserve the building can contact the society by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bert Lougheed, 86, has been a flying club member since 1977 and said the clubhouse is one of the best in the country and losing it will be huge blow to the aviation community.
“I’m going to feel really down and knocked out by it,” he said when asked how he would feel if it is gone. “Lots of times I’d just come out and listen to the radio and watch airplanes.”
Seaborn added that flying club members feel the local general aviation community — the large number of non-commercial local pilots and other aviation enthusiasts — do not factor into the airport’s long-term plans.
“Unfortunately, in the name of growth and development our clubhouse has been caught in the crosshairs and (seen as being) in the way of some of that development,” he said.
Seaborn also noted the flying club, which was founded in 1930, has used the building for decades. It has been a hub for area pilots and other aviation enthusiasts and has often served as a stopover for pilots on long journeys who are looking for a place to spend the night.