09/29/12 — Plane talk -- the who, what, when and how much of the city's proposed Air Force museum project

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Plane talk -- the who, what, when and how much of the city's proposed Air Force museum project

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on September 29, 2012 11:58 PM

When the city of Goldsboro contracted with Verner Johnson to plan its Air Force museum in April, City Council members were, in reality, contracting with a handful of separate entities that have, at times, worked and presented independently of each other.

Those subcontractors have been reporting to the Air Force Museum Citizen Committee, which has met since January and played an active role in selecting Verner Johnson for the project, in advance of a final presentation to the City Council, tentatively scheduled for the board's Nov. 19 meeting.

The project proposal for the city's building at 2406 E. Ash St. is broken down into five components: architectural planning, visitor experience, business plan, fundraising counsel and community evaluation.

While Verner Johnson itself is based in Boston, the subcontractors handling each component are based across the country, from Denver to Georgia and have had varied correspondence with the committee, with them sometimes meeting in person and other times by Skype or teleconference.

The staggered schedule has led to inconsistent and sometimes contradictory information being presented from different members of the Verner Johnson team.


The city purchased the former Arts Council of Wayne County building at the corner of Spence Avenue and Ash Street in summer 2011 for $500,000 -- a decision that allowed the Arts Council to move downtown, receive a grant to renovate its new home and create an endowment fund nest egg for the nonprofit organization.

The purchase came just months after the city paid Jerry Hodge $20,000 to perform a structural engineering evaluation of the building, which estimated it would cost about $1.4 million to repair the facility's roof, heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, windows and ceilings.

Some Air Force Museum Citizen Committee members have scoffed at that report, especially since a more detailed report earlier this month showed those estimates were, in some cases, double what the actual costs would be.

Roof repair and replacement, which Hodge predicted would cost about $200,000, are estimated to cost about $93,900 in the report from Verner Johnson, which prepared the site plan and capital cost estimates.

In fact, the full price to repair the building and upfit it as a museum, including about $500,000 in contingency and markups, is estimated at slightly less than $2.4 million. That plan includes a new elevator, the installation of exterior lighting, a glass vestibule, the removal of the drive-thru and construction of a new entrance in its place and landscaping.

One cost lacking from the proposal, which Hodge didn't calculate either, is asbestos abatement. It's unknown if the building contains asbestos, but it was typically used in construction throughout the 1970s, when the former bank building was built.

Committee Chairman Jimmie Edmundson said while there haven't been studies on that particular building, abatement at a similar building he was familiar with wasn't terribly costly since asbestos wasn't widely used in its construction.


Dan Murphy, of the Virginia-based PRD Group, specializes in visitor experience planning and first presented plans to the committee in early June before the city had distributed its paper and online surveys.

On June 6, the committee was tasked with piecing together a floor plan by manipulating different puzzle pieces into a rendering of the building's empty shell. In the end, it was nearly identical to the already prepared display boards Murphy brought with him.

Those floor plans were shown to four members of the public at a meeting later that evening and nearly three dozen the following day to mixed reviews. There were concerns about excluding the Reserve wings in light of the museum's apparent focus on the 4th Fighter Wing as even the slides featured the storied wing's logo and no others.

City officials said suggestions gathered at those public meetings would be factored into the final report, although Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan and Travel and Tourism Director Betsy Rosemann disagreed as to who would be considering them. Ms. Logan said the committee members would be briefed on the results, while Mrs. Rosemann said the comments were for the consultants to consider.

Murphy insisted that the 4th Fighter Wing would be the focus of the museum, although a quarter-sized steel frame of a KC-135 Stratotanker was included in his plans looming over the collection of one-third-sized planes flown in the 4th's history. The tanker concept was the only direct mention of the 916th Air Reserve Fueling Wing throughout the museum plan.

Whether those comments, and the ones gathered during the open-ended two-month long community survey, will factor into the final proposal for the museum interior has yet to be seen, since Murphy will share his draft of the museum experience component with the committee at a tentatively scheduled Oct. 15 meeting, along with a planning budget and schedule.

Murphy's charge also includes the mission statement and name of the museum, which has all but been decided on, save for a formal vote to propose the museum be named the Air Power Museum at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Name possibilities thrown around in past months included the Goldsboro Air Force Museum, the 4th Fighter Wing Aviation Center, First to Fly Aviation Center, and Aces and Heroes Learning Center, but the committee insisted those names focused too heavily on one particular aspect of the Air Force base while possibly excluding others. They also didn't want the term "Air Force Museum" to inspire visions of plane collections and grandiose hangars, since the proposed building is only 13,500 square feet in size.

Although three names were originally going to be presented to the public, Murphy and Tricia Cook of Verner Johnson insisted that the committee go with Air Power.

"Everything else pales in comparison," Mrs. Cook said, with Murphy dismissing echoes of Aces and Heroes after he shared his preference for Air Power.

Discussions about the mission statement swayed from proper grammar to the definition of the term "air defense."

Although the nation's entire military is housed beneath the Department of Defense, members insisted during their Aug. 22 meeting that Seymour Johnson fighter jets predominantly focus on offensive military maneuvers and that the term air defense didn't truly apply. The phrase was replaced with air power.

By the committee's next meeting, however, the consultants were concerned about repetition of the phrase "air power," while members had warmed to the use of the word defense, though without the word air. Members agreed on the newly reworded mission statement, but, like the name, it has not been formally adopted.


The consultants at Verner Johnson agreed at the city's insistence to having a community evaluation portion as part of the request for proposals from the initial interview. Verner Johnson subcontracted with Denver-based ExposeYourMuseum to perform an extensive study of the area and what citizens expected from an Air Force museum in Goldsboro.

In addition to Verner Johnson's meetings with stakeholders hand-picked by city staff and committee members, Kathleen Tinworth conducted intercept interviews with 53 people over five days in Goldsboro and led two focus group meetings with educators and veterans.

She also prepared an online and paper community survey, which was available to the public from mid-June until mid-July.

Because the questions were identical across the intercept interviews and online and paper surveys, that data were analyzed together.

Preliminary results, mostly concerning the demographics of those surveyed, were presented to the committee Aug. 2, and a draft version of Ms. Tinworth's findings was distributed Sept. 19.

Her key findings showed more than 80 percent of respondents were aware of the city's plan for an Air Force museum, slightly more than half were generally positive about the proposal and 57 percent approved of the city's plan to build it.

More than a quarter (26.1 percent) of participants expected actual airplanes on display at the museum, a concept that committee members, City Council members and consultants had essentially scrapped due to space requirements in the building.

Airplanes were the highest ranked exhibit-specific expectation listed in the survey results, with photos and memorabilia and artifacts at about 12 and 13 percent, respectively.

About 11 percent wanted interactive components while another 11 percent expected models and replicas.

The open-ended question also led to 5.8 percent of respondents voicing their expectation of a flight simulator at the museum, something that was featured prominently in the floor plans and financial plans prepared by other consultants on the project.

While 23.3 percent of respondents had no concerns about the project, 45.8 percent cited worries about the use of city money.

One in five respondents was concerned about the location and condition of the city's building and 19.5 percent wondered whether the museum would have the support from the community to be sustainable.

Still, more than 70 percent of respondents said they would visit the museum upon its opening, while about 90 percent offered suggestions for how the museum could attract repeat visitors, with 23 percent saying rotating exhibits could convince them to return to a museum they had already visited.

Slightly more than half of respondents (51.7 percent) said it was important for the museum to have space for events, like meetings or parties, something that was also prominently featured in other consultants' plans for the museum experience and operations budget.

Ms. Tinworth noted in her report that there were slight overrepresentations in the sample of respondents 65 and older and of those with children at home.

The sample also is not representative of the area's racial demographics, as 85.4 percent of respondents were white while only 63.9 percent of Wayne County's population is white. While only 8.4 percent of respondents were black, 32 percent of county residents were identified as black, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.




Edmundson and committee members were immediately concerned about the financial plan presented by ConsultEcon after Bob Brais revealed via teleconference that the museum's operating budget would begin at about $752,000 and grow to just less than $785,000 by the museum's fifth year.

The draft is split between an analysis of the resident market area (the population within a 45-minute drive time radius of the proposed museum site) and budget plans for the museum.

It also contrasts the museum plan with museums it deems comparable, although the report admits that the site's limitations in interior and exterior space reduces the quantity of directly comparable facilities.

The sites chosen for comparison are the College Park Aviation Museum in Maryland, the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire and the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville.

The Mighty 8th Air Force Museum near Savannah, Ga., is also listed among the comparable facilities, but its specifications aren't offered.

The report says that the museum's relationship between revenue and budget is typical at about 60 percent, saying that it's typical for museums to have anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of revenue from non-earned sources, although that comes in direct contradiction to the findings from the fundraising counsel contractor.

Clayton Bass of Alexander-Haus presented statistics that showed that the ConsultEcon's focus on government and corporate dollars might be ill-timed. Bass' presentation shows that government funding of museums nationwide has been nearly cut in half since 1989 and has continued to drop.

The percentage of unearned revenue in museum budgets has consequently grown to replace those lost funds, but it averaged at 36.5 percent in 2008 -- a far cry from the 60 percent that ConsultEcon proposes for the Goldsboro project.

The ConsultEcon plan also states that the number of corporate sponsorships are growing while statistics from Bass show that the corporate share of funding for the country's 17,000 museums has decreased from 1996 to 2011 and individual donors still fund about three-fourths of museum donations.

"Do not spend 95 percent of your time chasing corporate dollars," he said, although the ConsultEcon plan asks for a focus on soliciting those donations, in-kind donations from businesses and grants.

-- See Sunday's print News-Argus for more details about the Air Force museum project