One-hundred-six feet tall. Forty-six-thousand square feet. One slightly off-kilter design feature.

Donning a hard hat, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould helped break ground Friday for the architectural counterpart to the Air Force Academy Chapel — a below-ground building topped by a towering glass structure that will house the academy’s Center for Character and Leadership Development beginning in 2014.

Its defining characteristic: the 106-foot glass skylight’s 39-degree tilt toward Polaris, also known as the North Star.

Cadets plan to hold their honor board proceedings at the base of that skylight, with accused cadets facing squarely at true north, said Col. Joseph Sanders, the center’s director.
“It’s about remembering the significance of living a life that is guided and directed by a moral compass,” Sanders said.

The building represents one of a dwindling number of new facilities planned at the academy in the wake of billions in pending Defense Department budget cuts. A large vehicle inspection station at the south gate is all that remains on tap.

Private donors covered slightly more than a third of the center’s $43.9 million price tag — money that will be used to beautify the center and build the skylight, said Carlos R. Cruz-Gonzalez, the academy’s deputy director for installations.

Military funding accounted for the remaining $27.5 million. All but $4 million in pledged donations have come in. He expects those remaining donations to be paid in 2013, allowing the interior and landscaping to be finished in 2014.

When completed by EEC, the contracted construction company, the center will be flanked to the east and west by courtyards with trees and reflecting pools.
It will still stand lower than the academy’s chapel — a design trait meant to keep the chapel as the academy’s visual icon.

Inside, academy officials plan to host the Leaders in Flight Today seminar and possibly the academy’s annual National Character and Leadership Symposium.
Researchers focused on leadership skills also plan to use the building to study how best to develop incoming high school students into second lieutenants.

In the center of the building, cadets accused of breaking the academy’s honor code — which forbids, lying, cheating, stealing and tolerating those who break the code — will appear before their peers.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Gould said. “The real exciting thing is the work that will go on in this building and the impact it will have on the entire country.”

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