Army's biggest stateside lodging facility nears completion at Fort Lee
January 5, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (Jan. 5, 2011) -- The corridors in the 1,000-room lodging facility at Fort Lee aren't just long, they're Army long.
Starting most likely in the fall, the two miles of hallways in the seven-story building will be accommodating initial traffic from military guests at the largest Army lodge in the continental United States.
Mike Thurman, the project's contracting office representative for Fort Lee Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said the $86.3 million construction project should be completed as scheduled by June 8.
"Basically, the contractors are just doing the finishing in the building. They're painting, laying carpet, and installing lights and electrical components," he said. Thurman described the exterior of the building itself as "pretty much complete."
The porte cochere, which provides overhead shelter for vehicles parking outside the lobby entrance, is the only outer structure with inner beams still visible. Other exterior work on the building is now focused on punch-list items -- minor required corrections found during inspections.
"They've also started placing topsoil around the site in certain locations, bringing it up to grade, and we have some landscaping work going on," Thurman said, adding that the biggest remaining project starts in spring. "That's when they start putting the parking lots in and working on the Mahone Avenue entrance."
The parking area should provide some needed relief to currently overcrowded lots at the adjacent Army Logistics University in the southwest corner of the post with 500 spots for guests, 110 spots for employees and 14 handicapped spots.
To accommodate increased traffic, Mahone Avenue will be widened to include turn lanes into the lodge from both directions. The entrance, currently a dirt path for construction vehicles between Jessup Street and Adams Avenue, will be paved with the parking lots.
"This is a big building; there's more than half a million square feet of usable space," Thurman said. "You can't really comprehend it until you get out here and walk it. Your typical hotel has two, three or four elevators -- this lodge has nine elevators and five stairways."
The lodge also will feature a restaurant, sports bar/lounge, kitchen and in-house laundry.
Behind 900 of the lodge's doors, guests will find extended-stay rooms designed to support military personnel taking weeks-long ALU courses. Amenities include refrigerators, two-burner cooktops, microwaves, sinks, flat screen televisions and both wired and wireless Internet access. Each floor also has two study rooms, guest laundry rooms and vending areas.
Fort Lee FMWR's Larry Constantine, the project liaison officer, said the other 100 rooms are larger suites with separate living areas and bedrooms to accommodate military families making permanent change of station moves. They also will be available to students when unoccupied.
"The primary reason for this facility is to provide safe and secure lodging on post for Soldiers and other military students training here, in a manner that also enhances their educational environment," said Col. Rodney Edge, Fort Lee's garrison commander.
"With study rooms on every floor, students can go back to lodging after classes at ALU and work on projects together there, reducing extra travel on and off post, which in turn minimizes the risk of vehicle accidents and other incidents," Constantine said.
Even with the additional 1,000 rooms, Lee Farmer, chief of business operations at Fort Lee FMWR, said the post's neighboring communities shouldn't expect any decreased demand for hospitality services -- quite the opposite.
"The ALU alone averages about 2,700-3,000 students per day. We'll have only 1,527 total rooms after the lodging facility opens," Farmer said.
The addition of two advanced individual training schools and other organizations on Fort Lee as part of Base Realignment and Closure 2005 actions also means more visitors for graduations and events, and subsequently more demand for lodging and visitor-related services off post.
FMWR will manage the facility in accordance with the same policies governing the 527 rooms in existing Fort Lee lodging buildings. However, the Army ultimately plans to turn all lodging functions over to the private sector through its Privatized Army Lodging program.
According to the PAL website at www.pal.army.mil, more than 80 percent of Army lodging needs replacing or major repair, which would have cost taxpayers $1 billion and taken more than two decades to complete. The website states that PAL "gives the Army the ability to leverage private sector capital and best business practices, providing quality facilities today that will be sustained throughout the next 50 years."
To date, 21 of 42 Army installations identified for lodging privatization have already transferred their facilities to InterContinental Hotels Group. Although Fort Lee is technically part of the final PAL group, Rhonda Q. Hayes, director of Capital Ventures for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment, said the post won't transition to PAL with those installations in 2013.
Because the lodging construction is jointly funded with a new lodging facility at Fort Benning, Ga., Hayes said, "Fort Lee cannot transition to PAL until the new facility at Fort Benning is fully operational." According to Jennifer Gunn at the Fort Benning Public Affairs Office, that post's new lodge is still in the design phase.
Hayes said the Army does plan to conduct PAL-related environmental and real estate studies at Fort Lee in the spring. "Because of looming budget constraints, the Army will complete these studies while the funds are available, even though privatization of lodging at Fort Lee is not projected to occur until a later date."
"The facility is on track and that's a good thing for Soldiers and their Families -- and for the community," Edge said.