The building is structurally sound, which was reinforced by Snyder and Associates engineers who came to Ottumwa to review the building and "told us we weren't nuts," Gretz said.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Black said. "You wouldn't believe what it looked like when we first walked in."
That led to a conversation between Gretz and Black in November 2010: "Do we really want to do this?"
Yes, they decided. Other similar buildings were in worse shape before they were rehabilitated — and it's important to preserve this chapter in Ottumwa's history.
Larry and Elsie Mae Cofer were the "flame" behind the project, Gretz said. After Elsie Mae wrote the book "Carrier on the Prairie" and they began fly-ins, Gretz and Black were convinced something needed to be done.
In the northwest corner of the second floor was Richard Nixon's office when he was stationed in Ottumwa as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Black said. That and the commander's office across the hall will have to be restored nearly identical to what they were.
The contract to tear out and reconstruct the concrete front steps had already been let, Gretz said, and the next step will be to reconstruct the porch and restore the four large pillars on the front of the building. An Amish company has also given the group a quote to create the wood double door that opened up into the lobby and insurance office.
"We're hoping to get this all done this summer," he said. "By fall, the whole front could be done."
Then they'll tackle the 111 windows next summer "to look period," Black said. But one idea is to create panels that would be secured over the windows on the inside, in particular in what used to be the waiting room when the building was functional. The panels could have photos of the barracks and mess halls — what those inside the original building would have seen when they looked out the windows.