A long-planned replacement of the World War II-era airplane hangar at Katama Airfield is slated to come before Edgartown voters this spring as the town takes a new direction in managing the grass airfield.
A preliminary draft of the annual town meeting warrant calls for a $1.2 million budget override to fund reconstruction of the old hangar at the town-owned airfield. The hangar was built with salvaged scraps and wood from the beach after a 1944 hurricane destroyed two tin hangars at the airfield.
The replacement project has been in the works for years, but was stalled by complications including the need to amend a conservation restriction on the property.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Father Michael Nagle, a member of the Katama Airfield Commission, this week. “It’s been going on for . . . probably 20 to 25 years, people wanting to build a new hangar. I think we’re at the point now where it’s just getting the money appropriated.”
The total cost of the reconstruction is estimated at $1.6 million, conservation agent Jane Varkonda said. About $73,000 from a special-purpose fund called the Katama Airfield Trust and $250,000 in Community Preservation Act funding will also go toward the project.
The town bought the airfield and more than 100 acres of surrounding land in the 1980s with the stipulation that it would remain an airfield. The Nature Conservancy holds the conservation restriction on the property, which at one time included a prohibition on expanding or replacing the buildings.
After protracted legal wrangling and more than one town meeting vote, in August 2016 the Edgartown selectmen signed a series of land agreements that gives the town control over the two acres where the hangar is located.
Father Nagle said earlier plans for the hangar are now outdated and need to be redone to meet current codes, which will add to the cost of the project. If the town approves the spending, the project will also go out to bid. He estimated that construction would take about a year.
Meanwhile, as the hangar project inches forward, the town is also looking at a shift in the way the airport is managed. In the past the airport has been leased out to a manager, who then subleased other areas of the property, including a restaurant space. The Right Fork Diner has long held the restaurant lease.
But after a turbulent relationship with the previous airport manager, George Smith, led to the end of his lease this fall, the town took a new approach, deciding to hire an airport manager and assistant manager directly as town employees. The town will also lease the restaurant space directly and recently issued a request for proposals.
Members of the conservation and airfield commission outlined the new management structure at a budget hearing Tuesday before selectmen and members of the finance committee.
The Right Fork Diner was the only respondent to the request for proposals and will likely continue to operate the restaurant space, though the lease hasn’t been awarded yet, conservation commission chairman Edward W. Vincent said.
The town has budgeted money to hire a manager and assistant manager for 14 weeks a year. “A lot of things have been neglected over the years, especially the old hangar,” Mr. Vincent said.
Going forward, the town will receive proceeds from hangar rentals, beach parking fees, tie-down fees and fuel sales. The amount received might be higher than budgeted, town administrator Pamela Dolby said, because the town has not collected those fees directly before.
“It’s a step in the right direction with the airport, I think,” selectman Margaret Serpa said.
Father Nagle said the historic grass airstrip will appear the same to frequent visitors, including himself — he takes morning flights in his glider or sport plane.
“The diner will function just like it is, the airport will function just as it has . . . I don’t think anybody will notice any difference. If they’ve flown in a lot, they might see a few new faces. The businesses will be just as good as always, if not better,” he said.