Center for Character and Leadership Development tower a visible symbol of donors' contributions

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Academy Public Affairs
Construction will soon begin on the most visible and symbolic component of the Air Force Academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development: an angled skylight tower designed so that its vertex points toward the sky at a 38.83-degree angle, toward Polaris.

The skylight tower and many of the internal furnishings, including state-of -the-art, world-class digital media equipment and technology, that will go into the building once the exterior is complete, will come from approximately $17.5 million in funds raised through the USAFA Endowment, said retired Gen. Stephen Lorenz, the Endowment's president and CEO.

"In the graduate community and among donors, character is the heart of the Honor Code and the Air Force core values," said Lorenz, a former commander of Air Education and Training Command. "When we would go out and ask people to donate toward this building, which is iconic in nature, the project resonated. It was not difficult to raise funds.

"Many hundreds of donors have made a difference," Lorenz said. "In years to come, the CCLD will represent what our school stands for, the core values, well into the 21st century."

The CCLD's total cost of $45 million is split between $17.5 million in private donations and $27.5 million of military construction funds. Retired Lt. Gen. John Regni, the Academy's 17th superintendent, described the process of developing the public-private partnership in a 2012 paper titled, "History and Evolution of the Center for Character and Leadership Development (CCLD), 2005-2009."

The CCLD project originally had been designed as a donor-only initiative, but retired Maj. Gen. Gene Lupia, a 1967 Academy graduate and at the time a senior executive with CH2M Hill, encouraged Regni to seek appropriated funds.

"Shortly thereafter I received a call from Maj. Gen. Del Eulberg, the Air Force civil engineer," Regni wrote. "We provided him the plans, requirement, need and timing for his review and consideration, and he subsequently advised this project both qualifies for appropriated dollars and would compete. We also discussed the interior designs and our vision for furnishings that exceeded anything we would ever expect the taxpayer to fund. I advised Del that we would take an approach whereby the Air Force funded the design, site preparation, construction of the facility ... but we would turn to donors to furnish the inside with anything above government standards."

Regni's involvement with the CCLD initiative began shortly after he assumed command in 2005. After immersing himself in cadet life for 60 days, Regni said he found two areas of the character and leadership development program lacking. First, he noted that the curriculum was broad but lacking in depth. Second, unlike academic and fitness instruction, character and leadership development didn't have its own facility to call "home."

"The (freshmen) had large seminar-like class in the back of Arnold Hall ... inside a partitioned room," Regni wrote. "Somewhat appropriately for this venue, pizza was served. At the other end of the spectrum, I had to go off base to a hotel conference room to participate in classes for the (seniors). It became obvious the core mission of the Academy was being accomplished on the cheap ... both in the depth and degree of academic instruction a university president would expect of a fully accredited institution, and being accomplished in informal, makeshift locations."

The Association of Graduates provided Regni with a design that they had already created. It would sit atop the Honor Court on the Terrazzo.

"All he needed was a superintendent to take it to the graduates and build momentum and funding," Regni wrote. "My first reaction was, if we are ever going to tear up Terrazzo and plant a building between the (Cadet) Chapel and Arnold Hall for all to see, it better be incredible."

Duane Boyle, the Academy's chief architect and deputy director of the Installations Directorate here, explained the thoughts that went into the CCLD's design.

"We established early in the design phase that Polaris had to be portrayed in a meaningful way," Boyle said. "Polaris has long been a navigation tool used to guide the traveler. Likewise, it symbolically relates to one's own ethical and moral journey through life."

But a building alone wouldn't be enough. The Academy needed a tangible character and leadership development program as well. Regni placed Dr. Erv Rokke, a former permanent professor in the Academy's Political Science Department and a retired three-star general, in charge of drafting the Character and Leadership Plan.

"Dr. Rokke's task was to write both a strategic and implementation plan for character and leadership development. From scratch," Regni wrote. "Without Erv Rokke's tremendous work, the Academy would not have been in the position it was in 2009 to have this award-winning CCLD building design selected, approved and funded."

Rokke's plan established the CCLD as an agency that would, in part, conduct research on character and leadership immersion, oversee the Cadet Honor System and create a developmental learning environment for character and leadership.

The plan was in place, but where would the facility fit? Regni mused on several suggested locations, including the hill overseeing the Cadet Chapel and the northeast corner of the Terrazzo, before settling on the present location. Duane Boyle, the Academy's deputy installation director, showed Regni the location could work.

For the actual design, Regni turned to Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the company that designed the Academy's Cadet Area.

"If you read the history of the design and the work and labor Walter (Netsch) put into it, one appreciates how it all 'fits,'" Regni wrote. "There is a specific reason why there is an open space between 'the tower' of Vandenberg Hall and the next area of floors above the Terrazzo. ... There are other reasons why the Cadet Area is laid out on a seven-by-seven grid, and reasons the outer perimeter of the Cadet Area are critical to the overall architecture.

"What we had to do was design a new building grounded in the architectural principles Walter laid down. It had to complement the Cadet Area," Regni continued. "It also had to 'fit.' SOM -- and no one else -- had conceived, developed, lived and knew these architectural tenets."

The Academy approached each of SOM's three offices, located in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, to see if they were interested. Each office "jumped at the opportunity to continue SOM and Walter's work at the Academy," Regni wrote. He provided each office with the same requirements, including that it should build on the Academy's symbolism and heraldry.

A jury consisting of Regni, Rokke, Euberg, then-Cadet 2nd Class Tyler Keener and others, selected the New York office's proposal as its final design. After they presented the winning design to the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff in 2009, Regni addressed concerns that the design would attract criticism.

"We were not asking the taxpayer to pay for anything beyond the basic building," Regni wrote. Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz pointed out that the Air Force's portion of the contribution was "akin to an enlisted dormitory."

Jennifer Bateman, the Endowment's chief fundraiser, said the CCLD facility represents a successful partnership between the Air Force and donors.

"I think success in this endeavor will point the way forward in terms of how we fund the Air Force Academy, so I think this building is significant in charting a new way forward," she said.

The new building will be home to what Col. Joseph Sanders, permanent professor and CCLD director called "an integrative mission that is owned by faculty, staff, and cadets."

"We will have scholars, we envision, from all over the world -- really coming together inside this building to help us answer the tough questions around character and leadership development. Along with our faculty and staff, these scholars will actually help address some of the more relevant and contemporary ethical challenges that the Air Force as well as other organizations around the world face."