By Joe Hadsall
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Renovations at the Joplin Regional Airport’s old terminal building mean an aviation group affiliated with the U.S. Air Force needs to find a new home.
The Civil Air Patrol in Joplin is in the process of moving its displays and equipment from the local airport to a downtown location. But that location is up for lease, which means if a tenant is found, the patrol will have to find another space.
Jered Horn, public affairs officer for the patrol, said that could threaten its 70-year history of serving in Joplin.
“We have been fortunate over the last several years to have been allowed the use of space at the airport free of charge,” Horn said. “Without a similar arrangement, our future in Joplin is uncertain.”
The move is the byproduct of renovations to the old terminal building, said Steve Stockam, general manager of the airport. The city budgeted a $170,000 renovation project aimed at upgrading the building’s roof and HVAC system.
The projects will attract clients interested in leasing space at the building, Stockam said.
“We’d like to have them at the airport,” Stockam said of the CAP. “Unfortunately, I’m also responsible for the best use of the facility for taxpayers. We secured money in this year’s budget for renovation work to make it occupiable.”
Horn said the patrol will approach the Joplin City Council during its Dec. 3 meeting to find out more about the renovation plan and see how the CAP might fit in. Horn said that the patrol would investigate raising money to pay a lease, if it needs to.
The Civil Air Patrol was officially formed in 1941, a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Its original mission was to put aircraft to use in defending the country, with chapters popping up nationwide. The Joplin chapter formed in 1942, Horn said.
In the ’50s, the group’s mission changed to focus on running cadet programs, providing aerospace education and assisting with emergency services.
Membership consists of cadets, who are 12 to 21 years old, and senior members who assist with communications and other emergency services, among other duties.
Training cadets requires plenty of displays, and the patrol has them — everything from battle dress uniforms to actual parts from airplane engines, which includes a wing section and a cockpit from a fighter plane.
The patrol also implements tight testing requirements. In order for cadets to progress through the ranks, they must pass written tests, requiring the upkeep of documentation.
That’s why having a space for its materials is critical, Horn said. It needs space for more than meetings.
“The biggest thing is that we won’t have a spot for our learning center,” Horn said. “That’s a big draw. Without that, it’s harder to recruit pilots.”
Some branches of the CAP keep squadrons of pilots who are allowed to fly planes owned by the state. The Joplin branch has no such pilots, Horn said.
The patrol is also available to assist in emergencies, providing aerial support.
Stockam said the patrol has been at the Joplin airport for at least 10 years.
“Over the years, they have helped us a number of times,” Stockam said. “With presidential visits or air shows, they have always been willing to volunteer.”
Stockam said he would like to figure out a way to keep the patrol at the airport, but there is not enough space right now.
Horn said that if the patrol needs to investigate becoming a tenant, it will investigate. But cash is short for the nonprofit group.
“We’re willing to consider a lease,” Horn said. “But that would require going to the community to raise funds. If it comes to that, we’re willing to do that.”
The Civil Air Patrol is the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.