By Julia LeDoux, Pentagram Staff WriterNovember 7, 2017
There's no place like home.
Soldiers from 289th Military Police Company, 4th Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and members of the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall community held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 31 to mark the completion of a $27 million renovation project at Bldg. 247.
"I actually love it," said Sgt. Tahjanae R. Watkins. "Our old barracks are kind of small. These are really big. I'm really excited."
The deteriorating building was repaired and renovated and provided modern energy-efficient systems, updated finishes, new furnishings and appliances.
The building's 56 rooms and 37 office spaces have been outfitted with new furniture and appliances. Most of the rooms are arranged in one-plus-one modules in which two adjoining single-occupancy rooms share a common bathroom and a kitchenette equipped with an electrical stove top and microwave oven.
JBM-HH Commander Col. Patrick Duggan said he is ecstatic about the opening of the barracks.
"But probably not as ecstatic as the folks who have to live and work in it to finally see it come to fruition," he said.
Duggan said had it not been for the installation's command sergeant majors, who kept the project front and center on the radar screens of senior Army leaders, the project would not have gotten done.
"This is a strength to the NCO profession of our U.S. Army and for that I am thankful," he said.
JBM-HH Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Harris noted that the project took 382 days to complete, with construction beginning on the $27 million project in September of 2016.
"As I gaze behind the building behind us, I can not help but to think of my time in the barracks of 20 years ago," Harris said. "I have to admit that my barracks were no where near as glamorous as this building behind us, 247."
The two-story U-shaped building was constructed in the late 1800s and Harris said it has housed Soldiers who fought in conflicts stretching back to World War I. Numerous presidents have participated in events on the field across the street from the building, and the Wright Flier took off not too far from its location, he said.
"It boggles my mind to think about the stories this building could tell, not to mention the stories of the Soldiers who have walked through these doors for nearly 130 years," Harris said.
Harris said he shared his original barracks room at Fort Benning, Ga., with four other Soldiers who were separated by wall lockers. He got his own room when he returned to Benning after a tour in Korea.
"I took ownership of my room and the building that housed me and my battle buddies and assured our home was well taken care of," he said.
Looking at the Soldiers who will live in the barracks, Harris told them the building is their home.
"I am pleased and happy to be a guest at your home," he said.
Peter Grimberg, president of the John C. Grimberg Company, spoke directly to the Soldiers who will reside in the building during the ceremony.
"The design and construction and renovation of a 123-year-old structure was to vastly improve the living conditions for you guys, at the same time protecting you while extending the lifespan of this historic building," he said.
The brick and timber frame structure has a basement and a rear-facing courtyard and is located in Fort Myer's historic district so any work on it must comply with state historic preservation guidelines, he said.
"Then, there are the issues of working on and upgrading very old infrastructure," Harris said.
Secure blast resistant construction methods were used throughout the upgrade in accordance with anti-terrorism and force protection requirements, including blast-rated windows, reinforced walls and flooring.
"I'm impressed by the amount of time and money the Army has put into improving the lives of Soldiers," said Pfc. Taylor Highsmith, who will live in the barracks. "We definitely try to put all we can into this Army, give it all we can day in and day out. Things like this really show that the leadership really appreciates how we help."
Highsmith said the building features a lot of touches that make it feel personal and welcoming.
"It definitely feels like a home," he said.
The work at Bldg. 247 is the first phase in a 10-year repair campaign that will see all the barracks along Sheridan Avenue renovated.
Pentagram Staff Writer Julia LeDoux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.