Philadelphia-based company purchased property with hopes of landing new munitions contract
PARSONS (AP) — An ammunition plant in southeast Kansas built to assemble bombs for soldiers fighting in World War II was deactivated Wednesday, the first closure of an Army installation under the most recent congressional plan to shutter and reconfigure military bases.
The Kansas Army Ammunition Plant officially closed with a brief ceremony in a basement of a building at the facility during which an olive drab cover was placed over the installation’s red flag. About 75 people attended the event.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” said Ruby Redmond, 85, who worked in personnel at the plant from 1951 until retiring in 1994.
The plant actually made its last bomb — a sensor-fused weapon dropped from aircraft capable of hitting multiple targets — in December, ending ammunition production that began in 1942 when more than 7,000 employees built bombs and artillery rounds bound for Europe and the Pacific.
Redmond said the plant was its own city when she worked there, with thousands of employees working around the clock to build ammunition for the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
“We pulled in people. We needed people,” she said.
Employment was less than 300 when production stopped in December. It had declined steadily over the years, from a recent high of 1,300 after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Wages at the plant were more than $40,000, nearly twice the median salary in Labette County, one of the poorest in the state.
Pentagon officials targeted the plant for closure in 2005 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process. Production was transferred to ammunition plants in Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Local officials did not fight the closure and even started working toward converting the plant to industrial purposes before the facilities affected by fifth and latest round of the Base Realignment and Closure had been announced. An Army spokesman said Wednesday that the plant was the first of its installations from the 2005 BRAC to be deactivated, nearly a year ahead of schedule.
The Army expects to transfer the land to the new owners by the end of this year.
Philadelphia-based munitions Day Zimmermann Inc., which has run the plant for the Army since 1970, is buying 4,000 acres and two production lines with the hope of eventually landing a new munitions contract.
Great Plains Development Authority, created by local officials, will own about 3,000 acres. It plans to create an industrial park with access to U.S. 400 and railroad lines.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, and it’s not going to happen in a year. But it’s going to start right now,” said Ann Charles, a former newspaper publisher and deputy director of the authority.
The federal Office of Economic Adjustment has awarded the authority more than $3 million to assist with the transition. Other funding and assistance has come from the state, including $750,000 to improve access to U.S. 400.
“People in the Legislature recognized that Labette County had been severely wounded by BRAC. This is there attempt to help with that,” Charles said.
However, she said, the upside is that once the transfer is done, 14,000 acres that have been off the tax rolls since 1941 will emerge, creating revenue for local government.
“It’s a trade off,” she said. “We are losing the jobs, but the jobs were winding down anyway.”
Dan Goddard, executive director of the authority, said much of the land will revert to wildlife and recreation uses. Remaining buildings, many dating to the 1940s, will be razed and infrastructure replaced.
“They really don’t have a compatible use for them, and they are contaminated,” said Goddard, who has worked on four BRAC closing projects.
The ammunition plant was the only casualty in Kansas during the 2005 BRAC process. The state overall saw significant gains in military activity, including return of the 1st Infantry Division to Fort Riley after 10 years in Germany.