Privatized lodging continues improvements
August 26, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla.--More than 150 hotel patrons and guests took in a free buffet dinner as privatized lodging on Fort Sill celebrated its first anniversary.
Gabriele Whitaker, general manager for InterContinental Hotels Group, the company that operates post lodging, said work is right on schedule and still focused on life-safety renovations.
"Workers from Actus Lend Lease have completed 129 rooms in Allin Hall, 154 in Aultman Hall and all 75 rooms in Geronimo Hall," said Whitaker, who added the heating, ventilation and air conditioning work for Comanche House should be done in early fall.
Completed rooms are outfitted with modern furnishings more inviting than the decor that was installed nearly 20 years ago. Whitaker said she remembers much of the original furniture was nice in its day, but styles change. Now at least, lodging can change as well. Once all life-safety updates are made and financing is available, workers will move onto beautification changes.
"At that time carpets will be replaced in hallways and some guest rooms," said Whitaker. "We won't turn down anything we can get to provide the best product possible to our customers."
Currently full occupancy is 552 rooms or 76 percent of the number of rooms that will be available once all work is completed. Whitaker said U.S. and foreign military personnel are the bread and butter of lodging's customer base, and because of the reduced number of rooms on post, some of those students are billeted off post under contract with local motels.
Although students form the majority of lodging's business, Whitaker said class sizes and schedules are known in advance so the staff can predict how many rooms they need to set aside to meet this demand. Once done, other customers such as retirees, can often get rooms. She said people who would like to stay on post should make reservations online via www.sillmwr.com as soon as they know they are coming to Fort Sill.
There's no guarantee rooms will be available, but if there are openings, lodging will honor those reservations. Whitaker said people coming for the retiree open house will stay on post, and lodging recently had rooms for a small reunion group that stayed here.
For those patrons who do stay on post, the dining area where the daily continental breakfast is served is one example of that best product ideal Whitaker alluded to. New lighting, tables and chairs, and paint have transformed the room. Perhaps its best feature though is a high-quality, easy-to-clean tile floor. Rather than accentuate a spill of coffee or tea, the color helps hide the little drips that happen as customers move to and from the serving area to their seats.
"We are grateful our needs were considered, because we get a lot of people through this area on a daily basis," said Whitaker. "The new floors durability and attractive appearance not only looks good now but will continue to do so for years to come."
Lodging has all serving and display equipment in place so patrons can get breakfast in the morning, but is still awaiting the arrival and installation of kitchen appliances for preparing heated foods, an industry standard for similarly appointed hotels. Another affected area, guest laundry facilities on the sixth floor of Aultman Hall will be down for a week to give work crews time to remove machines, tear up and replace the old flooring and paint the room.
"We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience of taking their clothes to the laundry room in Allin Hall," said Whitaker. "Once completed though, our customers will have a much nicer room to attend to their laundry."
Throughout the upheaval, Whitaker said she appreciated her customers' patience and the customer-friendly manner in which Actus employees are completing the renovations. She noted the project management team has been very cooperative and willing to work around customer needs. For example, crews working in a laundry area gave patrons access to wash their clothes during the evening after construction had ended for the day.
As for other improvements, Whitaker said wireless and wired Internet services are in place and operational in all facilities. She mentioned seeing a Soldier accessing the Internet from his laptop computer in the lobby and how that's a service the lodging staff has wanted to provide for sometime now. Customers also now have access to an expanded cable television package that includes premium channels in all rooms and common areas.
Whitaker added a 30-by-30 foot administrative room is being converted to a lounge/study room in Aultman Hall. The conversion wasn't part of the original design plan, but it fills a void as there isn't a room available that can handle larger groups of students. The study room will include tables where students can work bigger projects with enough space to move about. A flat screen TV will also be placed in the room providing groups a location where they could watch a training DVD or take a break and catch a movie. Immediately outside this room are grills and picnic tables that get a lot of student use and offer even more flexibility for the study room's use.
Throughout the renovations, Whitaker noted her staff is working hard to meet the needs of their guests. The anniversary date epitomized that work ethic as many employees worked a long day but stayed around after hours to greet and serve people who stopped in for dinner.
"We have a great team here who has dedicated a lot of time to help our customers feel as comfortable as possible. It's good to see the pride they show in their work, their professionalism and courtesy they extend to each guest," said Whitaker.