By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsOctober 9, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 9, 2019) -- A crew of permanent staff members and seasonal employees from Fort Drum Public Works completed a massive culvert replacement project this summer, demonstrating the capabilities of what an in-house workforce can do on an installation.
The work was finished five days ahead of the projected two-month schedule, saving an estimated $1.3 million.
"We simply didn't have the in-house manpower capable of doing it before," said Rick Nuijens, PW Operations and Maintenance Division chief. "Now, we have a larger pool to select from because of our recently hired seasonal employees. It frees up some of our permanent staff to do this type of work when, before, they were needed to maintain facilities or cut grass on the airfield."
Norm McGuire, PW Business Operations and Integration Division chief, said that additional hiring authorizations over the past two and a half years have enabled them to tackle more in-house projects, rather than having to contract them out. It has also improved the capabilities of the workforce.
"We're actually rebuilding skill sets and getting that expertise back to where it needs to be, after experiencing two decades worth of manpower cuts," he said.
"With this particular project, we did it in a fraction of the time at a third of the cost compared to hiring a contractor," McGuire added. "That cost savings allows us to go after a number of other projects that would otherwise have not been funded."
The cost savings funded asphalt paving projects for Lewis Avenue, Nash Boulevard and Gasoline Alley.
McGuire said that there are roughly 2,000 to 3,000 culverts throughout post, and a two-person crew identified 900 culverts last year that required some level of repair or maintenance. Earlier this year, Range Control notified Public Works that they were closing off the primary access road to the training ranges because of a sinkhole. This was the start of the Culvert 32 replacement project.
"We went out and looked at the sinkhole, and it was a 24-inch opening in the center of the road. And when you looked down inside of it, it was 10 feet wide, 10 feet deep," Nuijens said. "It was a cavern."
As a temporary fix, a trench was dug across the road and an 18-inch pipe was installed with a hose so PW workers could pump out water that the failed culverts could no longer do.
"At one point it was 20 feet deep on one side of the road," Nuijens said. "We put the pipe across, backfilled it, filled in the hole, and we went out daily and pumped the water down for three to six hours depending on rain and the spring meltoff."
A bypass road was built to allow troops to have access to training areas before the project began in early July. The goal was to replace the culvert and rebuild the road ahead of the 10th Mountain Division's Mountain Peak exercise set for Sept. 1.
Nuijens said that the project concentrated the efforts of four of the five divisions within Public Works. The Business Operations and Integration Division procured the needed materials and equipment; Operations and Maintenance provided the in-house labor; Engineering, Plans and Services provided project design and review, surveying, plan development and management; and the Environmental Division ensured that procedures were followed in accordance with the Stormwater Protection Plan, and that the project was in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
"We planned on 30 days to complete the big dig - 36 feet from the road surface down to the bottom of the culvert," Nuijens said. "We found two 24-inch steel pipes had failed, and so Environmental gave us the guidance to go with one six-foot-tall pipe, as a replacement. Because of the depth of the overburden we had to have the wall thickness of the pipe able to withstand the pressure from the soil above. This culvert will never have to be replaced again."
The 12- to 15-person crew worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day with only two days off, and Nuijens said that everyone was fully committed to the project.
"Our lead operator on this project took a half day off for his son's birthday, and we kind of had to force him to do that," he said. "I mean, the morale of these guys was amazing. This is the kind of project they want to be doing - digging and building, and working on infrastructure."
Nuijens said that that a four-person team worked evenings performing preventative maintenance on equipment used throughout the project, fueling equipment and pumping down the water flow.
"We were going through 400 gallons of diesel fuel a day on the operation," he said.
Sean Johnson, PW Municipal Services chief, said that when the rebuild of the primary access road was complete, it was raised 14 feet from what it had originally been.
"The bottom of the culvert was 36 feet under the top of the road before, and now it's 50 feet," he said. "That took some of the dip out of the road and has made it much safer."
Johnson said that giving employees a chance to flex their skills on an intense work schedule raises job satisfaction.
"It's a great morale booster when they see the finished product, knowing they were a part of that," he said.
That's not to say that the Operations and Maintenance Division has the needed manpower to tackle PW's annual project requirements, which totals $35 to $40 million, according to McGuire.
"But you can see where if we can save a $1 million by doing a project in-house, that's a big deal toward stretching our budget," he said. "That's the equivalent of us being able to do another major road repair or possibly a building renovation."
McGuire said that another major in-house infrastructure project is underway - with even more projected cost savings - but more significant to him is that the project will reinforce what they demonstrated with the culvert replacement.
"We can do it better, faster and cheaper," he said. "I don't think you're going to find anyone else in the Army taking on this kind of work with an in-house workforce. The fact is there are very few in-house workforces like us anymore, and we take a lot of pride in what we do here at Fort Drum."