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Fifteen years ago, a state delegate, a former state senator and the unofficial mayor of Lexington Park joined together to find a replacement museum to mark the work done at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

In a year and a half, the new building should be finished; construction begins this month.

The CEO of the company hired to build the new Patuxent River Naval Air Museum promised Tuesday at a groundbreaking ceremony that it would be completed on time and on budget.

The original museum, on Navy base property, was torn down to make way for the expansion of Route 235 into a six-lane highway, which was needed to accommodate new jobs transferred to Pax River.

The museum has been temporarily housed in an old warehouse since 2001 near Pax River’s Gate 1. The new museum will be built in front of that warehouse.

The St. Mary’s County commissioners awarded a $4.6 million construction award in June to Broughton Construction. The Maryland State Highway Administration signed off on the contract as well, since the project also uses some state funding.

“This will be a beautiful building. Coming down the highway it will be a pinnacle for the area,” Casey Stinger, chief executive officer of Broughton Construction, said Tuesday.

Visitors to Pax River and Lexington Park will see the front of the museum as they come southbound down Route 235 at the intersection of Pegg Road and Gate 1.

“It was 15 years ago this month when I met with the late [former state senator] J. Frank Raley and [Del.] John Bohanan,” said Keith Fairfax, whom Patuxent River Naval Air Museum Association President Ed Forsman called “the mayor of Lexington Park.”

As the $75 million project to widen Route 235 from Route 4 to Great Mills Road got under way, “there was no plan for replacing the naval air museum and what was needed was leadership,” and that was found in Fairfax, said Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s).

The project evolved during the terms of three different county commission presidents — Julie B. Randall (D), Thomas F. McKay (R) and Jack Russell (D), the current commission president.

Each board of commissioners wanted to make sure that when the museum was opened there would be enough money to operate it.

The original design was scaled down, but the museum association was still accountable for raising $1.5 million in private donations, which it did. Another $1.2 million came from the state and $3.4 million came from federal funds.

“The county, state, federal governments, private industry all worked together,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) earlier Tuesday.

Bohanan said of the museum, “We believe it’s a key and anchor for our community. It took a few years, but we got there.”

At one point in early 2001, the St. Mary’s County government expected the museum to be up and running by 2004.

“Nothing comes to life without a little struggle,” Fairfax said.

The growth and evolution of Lexington Park outside the base gates was due in large part to Raley, Jack Daugherty and Robert “Gabe” Gabrelcik, Bohanan said.

Daugherty and Gabrelcik started Lexington Park businesses and Raley introduced a torrent of legislation to modernize St. Mary’s County in his one term as a state senator in the 1960s.

The museum property started as a gas station owned by Gabrelcik. He died on Sept. 29. His wife, Joyce, attended the ceremony and helped break ground.

The new museum will be 20,860 square feet. Once the building is finished, the museum association needs to fill it in with exhibits.

“Before making any specific plans, we must first decide what ‘personality’ we want the museum to have. There are only a small handful of museums in the world devoted to preserving the legacy of flight testing research and development,” wrote the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum Association in its latest newsletter.

The original museum opened to the public in 1978 in a building that once served as the United Services Organization — USO — for Pax River.

It was torn down in the spring of 2001.

jbabcock@somdnews.com