Hutchinson is on the radar as a potential home for a new statewide training facility for the Minnesota Wing Civil Air Patrol.
“We have never in the 78 years of serving the state of Minnesota had a permanent home,” said Col. James Garlough, Minnesota Wing commander. “We have been looking for the right community, reasonably centrally located in Minnesota, in which to build a training facility where we can bring our people in and operate on our own calendar.”
Minnesota Wing currently operates its training programs out of multiple facilities around the state, including Camp Ripley. Garlough said that while those facilities have been accommodating, Civil Air Patrol is often last priority when it comes to scheduling events on the camp’s grounds.
“So a couple years ago I went to the Legislature and asked, ‘Hey, will you give me some money?” he added. “They said yes, which kind of amazed me. So we’ve been looking for the past two years, and Hutchinson was not initially on the radar. We were looking a little closer to the Twin Cities area, but for various reasons we started to look elsewhere.”
Hutchinson Municipal Airport, also known as Ken Butler Field, already has a building dedicated to the Civil Air Patrol. Garlough said that was a key factor for considering the airport as a potential home for the training facility. He also noted that the area is the perfect location, and that the airport is phenomenal.
“You have all the supplies and all the infrastructure we’re going to need,” he said. “The idea is we’re going to have a training facility we’ll use for our leadership and cadet activities. Pretty much everything we do.”
The design of the facility would be simple: a barracks, dining facility and classrooms for cadets. Garlough said the organization’s most important mission is its youth program.
“The youth program is really the crown jewel of the Civil Air Patrol,” Garlough said. “We take young people into our program and give them the opportunity through a self-paced program in which they have increasing responsibility. To learn leadership, good citizenship, and to learn to be dynamic Americans.”
Garlough said there isn’t another training facility such as the one being proposed anywhere in the region, and grant money received from the Legislature was unprecedented.
“The state really has an investment in our organization and is very supportive,” he said. “The downside is that it’s a one-time-only grant. We can’t go back to the well.”
While the primary purpose of the facility would be for Minnesota Wing operations, activities would occasionally draw attendees from other states to participate in Hutchinson.
“Many of those activities take place within the larger regional structure that we’re a part of,” Garlough said.
Preparation and planning will come next. Public Works supervisor John Olson said he’s already been in talks with the McLeod County Fair Board since the training facility would be a close neighbor to the Fairgrounds. He’s also been in contact with the city and county parks department.
“I let them know that there may be times where there will roughly be 120 boys and 30 girls perhaps needing some of those (parks) facilities that would be available,” Olson said. “For example, to fly drones, or perhaps at the Fairgrounds for physical fitness activities, particularly in the winter.”
“They’re clued into it. They’re happy to provide whatever they could to accommodate these folks,” he added.
The biggest obstacle, according to Olson, would be utilities.
“Currently we have gas service and electrical service. That wouldn’t be a problem whatsoever,” he said. “The biggest issue we have is related to water. They obviously want to be served by city water and sewer, so I’ve worked with Kent (Exner) and Keith (Messner) to come up with a couple options.”
Those options include coming right off of Edmonton Avenue and following the existing sewers, which run about the length of Airport Road. Olson said property owners along Airport Road would also benefit from the new sewer hookup.
“Properties on both sides of Airport Road would have access to water and sewer probably for the first time,” he said.
Olson said a plan is in the works and should be prepared by the end of the year.
“Hopefully as the Christmas bells are ringing, we’ll be in a position so they know they can move ahead,” Olson said, “and we know to prepare for a project to serve them.”