- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

PERU, Ind. (AP) - The skies over Grissom Air Reserve Base have been quieter since June 1 - the day airplanes stopped flying from the military facility after it closed its runway for a 45-day repair project.

But even though aircraft aren’t coming or going, the base is staying busy.

Nearly all of Grissom’s 16 KC-135R Stratotanker planes shipped out to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio just after Memorial Day, but officials say the vast majority of the base’s 1,800 workers remain at Grissom to offer on-the-ground support for military missions.

Only 150 personnel have been deployed to the temporary detachment set up in Ohio to continue flying missions from Wright-Patterson, the Kokomo Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1pJ8R6h ).

“It’s as close to business as usual at the base here,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark Orders-Woempner with Grissom’s public affairs office. “The day-to-day operations still need to continue as normal. Wrenches aren’t being turned here and engines aren’t getting fired up, but everything else is continuing on as usual.”

Business isn’t continuing as usual at Dean Baldwin Painting, though. The airplane-painting company that opened last year inside a renovated hangar near the base hasn’t been able to work a job since the runway closed.

Dean Baldwin Painting CEO Barbara Baldwin said she’s tried to keep workers busy with a number of community projects.

Workers have painted trailers for the local Boy Scout troop and Maconaquah High School band, refurbished a KC-135R Stratotanker at Grissom Air Museum and painted new logos on the Miami County YMCA vans.

But the projects haven’t been enough to keep the around 100 employees at Dean Baldwin Painting working full-time. Baldwin said 13 employees were laid off for the duration of the runway closure, and all the other workers were cut back to a 32-hour work week.

But, Baldwin said, the pain is only temporary. Once the runway opens again on July 15 and planes can again start flying to the facility for paint jobs, the company will come back stronger than ever.

Baldwin said the company will hire a slew of new employees after the runway repairs are complete to keep up with a nearly full plate of contracts running through 2015. She said she anticipates boosting the workforce at the facility to around 225 employees by the end of the year.

“I figure we can bite the bullet now, because we’ll be catching up once we’re up and running again,” Baldwin said.

And once the runway repair project is finished, both military and civilian aircraft will have a safer and smoother airstrip to land on.

The $3.2-million runway project is installing six new expansion joints on the more than 2-mile long airstrip to prevent buckling from summer heat.

John Robison, chief engineer at Grissom, said crews are cutting large slabs of 24-inch-thick concrete to put in the expansion joints, some of which haven’t been replaced since the runway was built in the 1950s.

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