Navy muffles Rota hobby shops; officials expect to save $110,000
February 17, 2004
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Do-it-yourselfers at Rota are mad that the base has closed its Auto Hobby and Wood Hobby shops.
Base officials said the closings will save $110,000 per year. The moves were made, according to base commander Capt. John H. Orem, because the base was under pressure to cut costs and raise revenues.
Both shops were closed over the weekend. Those who use the shops to work on cars and make furniture criticized the moves.
“This provides an affordable place for people to do their own maintenance,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Johnson of the Naval Security Group Activity. “That apparently is wrong, because if it was right we wouldn’t be getting shut down.”
Most military bases have shops where people can work on cars and get advice from mechanics.
The Rota shop has two lifts, plus hydraulic jacks and jack stands. It has machines to mount and balance tires, compress springs and grind parts, almost any tool in the book, a clean, dry floor and good lighting.
For anyone who has ever squeezed under a car and gotten an eyeful of soot, it’s like paradise.
There are also guidebooks and other technical manuals for hundreds of vehicles.
“We have the basic information here,” said Yuri Durnovo, a Navy retiree and auto shop volunteer for more than 20 years. “If a person is willing to do the work, we’ll help them.
“If the person is a total klutz, there is always someone willing to do it for them and they can work out [a deal] on their own.”
The shops are run by Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Todd Benson, the base’s MWR director, wrote in the base newspaper that the auto and wood shops “are two of the lowest utilized programs within MWR.”
“[Tightening budgets] is not unique to Rota,” he wrote. “It is being experienced throughout the region and Navy MWR in general.”
Closing auto hobby shops is not a trend. The shops are open at Navy bases in Naples and Sigonella, Italy.
In Japan, Yoko Aramaki, a spokeswoman at Sasebo Naval Base, said, “there is no plan to close the Auto Hobby Shop here.” A Community Services spokeswoman at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni said it is “planning improvements to the services and available to” patrons. And the Web site for Yokosuka Naval Base, was advertising a “Valentine’s Day Special” at its shop.
The Army and Air Force bases in Europe haven’t shut down theirs, either.
Millie Waters, a spokeswoman for Installation Management Agency-Europe, said U.S. Army Europe has 27 auto skills centers, including at least one within every base support battalion. No auto shops within USAREUR have been closed recently, she said.
Maj. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said “there are no plans at this time” to close any of USAFE’s auto skills centers.
On Wednesday, eight cars were parked in the bays at the Rota shop, which a part-time employee said is open 22 hours a week and gets about 120 customers a month. The shop charges $2 an hour to use the facility and $3 an hour to use one of the lifts.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Fabian Echeverry of the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron was replacing brake parts on his 1999 Honda Accord.
“It would cost way too much for me to take it downtown,” he said. He said he planned to change the car’s fluids and do whatever else he could before the shop was shut down.
Next door at the Wood Hobby Shop, people were gluing, sanding, sawing and clamping.
“Why are they taking this stuff away from the people?” said Petty Officer 1st Class Bryan Noble, an engineer at the Naval Media Center, who was building a table.
“I’m an E-6 so I can afford to have my car fixed. But can an E-3 or E-4 who is driving an older car?”
Lt. Corey Barker, a base spokesman, said a sailor’s or Marine’s cost of living adjustment already takes those costs into account.
“In effect, we already receive [COLA] money to repair our vehicles in town,” he said.
Barker said that people should not be scared to take their car to a shop in town where the mechanics speak only Spanish.
“People here have been doing business off base for 50 years,” Barker said.