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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The wrecking ball soon will turn their former workplace into metal scraps and dust.

And for that, the 35th Communications Squadron airmen couldn’t be happier.

The squadron celebrated the start of a new era at a chilly ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning outside Building 506, its new headquarters.

The foundation was laid and the concrete poured as part of a $5 million Japanese government Facilities Improvement Program project.

“This was a three-year effort between the government of Japan, [the Japan Air Self-Defense Force] and the efforts of our government and the Air Force,” said 35th Communications Squadron Commander Maj. Bill Poirier.

The building replaces the archaic Building 508, slated for demolition. “It was like working in a cave,” Chief Master Sgt. Allen Thomas, the squadron’s superintendent, said of the older structure, which was built in 1949. “The lights were dim. This one here is much more modern — it’s night and day.”

Though brightly lit, the new facility is more energy-efficient. Its hall and office lights dim automatically; its heating and cooling system use cost-saving technology “that wasn’t even envisioned 50 years ago,” said 2nd Lt. Jeffrey Ewens, a communications officer.

About 85 of the squadron’s 220 military personnel will report to work there. The rooms mostly are administrative offices with new carpet and furniture.

Ewens and Thomas said Pacific Air Forces chipped in more than $300,000 for furnishings. “It’s kind of hard to find furniture when we have a war going on,” Thomas said. “We had been planning it for a number of years; they stood by us.”

Probably the most noticeable feature is a spacious lawn. Post Sept. 11, 2001, force-protection standards require a 25-meter “stand-off” between the closest parking and any facility built for Air Force or Defense Department personnel, Ewens said.

But customers and workers will have plenty of parking: When the dust clears next door, a new 66-space parking lot will be laid where Building 508 once stood.

Telephone customer service now is in the new communications building. Base residents needing to start or stop Class B phone service should go to Room 124.

Poirier said although the move means “a huge step-up in capability” for the squadron, it’s still bittersweet. “We’ve had communicators walking those halls since 1949,” he said of the old workplace. To preserve that history, the squadron plans several projects, including a heritage room and a conference room decorated with names of past commanders and squadrons that preceded the 35th Communications Squadron.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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