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North Versailles Naval Reserve Center to close

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 11:45 a.m.
Rockets are fired in the parking lot of the Navy Operational Service Center Pittsburgh to cap a week of Starbase Atlantis classes in February 2011, involving 25 fifth graders from McKeesport Area's Centennial Elementary School. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
A color guard starts a February 2011 graduation ceremony for 25 McKeesport Area fifth graders taking part in Starbase Atlantis, an ongoing community outreach of the Navy Operational Support Center Pittsburgh, the Naval Reserve base in North Versailles Township. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News

Groundbreaking may occur next month for a new Naval Reserve center near Pittsburgh International Airport, to replace an existing center in North Versailles Township.

“Construction of a new support center will give the Navy a modern, up-to-date training facility in this region,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, whose district includes the existing center.

PJ Dick, a former West Mifflin company now based on Pittsburgh's North Shore, is in a joint venture with Construction Performance Management LLC of Mt. Lebanon.

In July the venture won a $10.558 million contract for a two-story building, to be part of an Armed Forces Reserve Center in Moon Township.

It also would include the Air Force Reserve's 911th Airlift Wing, a facility local officials have sought to save since it was placed on a federal government base closure list some years ago.

“Building the new Navy support center on the base at the airport will facilitate joint local military activities,” Doyle said, “and help make a stronger case for preserving the 911th Airlift Wing and the 171st Air Refueling Wing and keeping them here in Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, said the Navy has been planning for a long time to move the center, because the North Versailles location no longer fits its needs.

“The 911th base already has the workforce, assets and resources to house the (Naval Reserve) operations,” Casey said in February.

When the Navy moves out of North Versailles, it will leave memories behind, including those of families that welcomed home troops sent overseas.

“They're a good group of kids,” Gunnery Sgt. Norman A. Wesolowski said as 38 members of Military Police Company Bravo, a Marine unit based at the North Versailles center, returned in October 2011 from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.

“Their main job was convoy security,” said Wesolowski, senior enlisted officer and aide to Bravo commander Capt. John M. Schneider. “They were hit by a couple IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”

Everyone came home alive and well, but four did so with Purple Hearts.

Another military policeman stationed for a time at the North Versailles base also had a role in a Sept. 11, 2001, rescue in New York.

Munhall native David Karnes said he was not a hero, even though he found the two Port Authority officers and rappelled into a 40-foot hole with Marine Sgt. Jason Thomas in a bid to rescue them.

“They charged into that building knowing it was an extreme risk to their own lives,” Karnes told The Daily News.

“The smoke was so heavy,” Karnes said, “that even with floodlights we couldn't see what we were doing.”

The North Versailles base also has offered training beyond what reservists earned there, including something usually offered only on major bases, “Starbase Atlantis.”

“It's hands-on learning, with no books,” director Ken C. Mechling Jr. said at a February 2011 graduation for 25 fifth graders from McKeesport Area's Centennial Elementary School.

“It goes directly with our math and science curriculum,” said Centennial teacher Beth Gumbert.

She was watching her third Starbase class graduate in a 2011 ceremony complete with the firing of rockets built by the youngsters during their five days at the reserve center.

The new center will be located in the district of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who said planners are trying to lock down a date to break ground.

“The current Naval Operational Support Center is built upon an old slag pile,” said Murphy, himself a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve Medical Service Corps.

“The building is cracking in numerous places,” Murphy continued. “It is structurally unsound. They need to move out of there.”

According to a list of defense contracts posted at an official government website, the goal is to complete the project by February 2014.

The project includes spaces for administration, classroom, drill hall, exercise and fitness, medical examination, training aids, recruiting, and storage, and locker and shower rooms, janitorial and mechanical equipment.

The contract to the venture officially known as CPM-PJD MPA JV also contains an unexercised option that would increase the value of the project to $11.531 million.

The Mt. Lebanon and North Shore companies also joined forces in a $6.85 million contract to build repair hangar exteriors in the Moon area.

They jointly entered one of 10 bids for the new reserve center to the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Midwest, at Great Lakes, Ill.

Funding would continue from the current federal fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 through 2012-13 and 2013-14.

In a letter to Vice Admiral Dirk J. Debbink, commander of the Naval Reserve, Casey pointed out that airport corridor “will continue to be home to numerous military assets that are not impacted” by the possible closing of the 911th, “including 171st Pennsylvania Air National Guard and the U.S. Army 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command.”

All three lawmakers also pointed to the new naval center's proximity to a relocated commissary and post exchange. Groundbreaking occurred last month on the new commissary. The commissary and post exchange will replace the Charles E. Kelly Support Facility in Oakdale.

That facility, like the 911th, was endorsed for closing by the Defense Department's Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or

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