Fort Riley's Directorate of Public Works continues progress on a plan to renovate three barracks buildings on Custer Hill at an investment of $11.8M each. Although construction isn't projected to begin until spring, behind the scenes work had been taking place for months.
"It's a 30 to 36 month process to get a building renovated, from initially identifying the requirement, through turning over the keys to the Soldiers," said B.J. Waston, chief of the Master Planning Division, DPW. "There's about 18 to 24 months of actual construction. But it takes 12 months, on a good year, prior to that to put together the approval documentation, as well as to do the planning and design for what that project looks like."
As the first step in the planning process, DPW's Business Operations Division identifies the scope of the project by compiling their list of priorities to renovate existing buildings. The plan began in 2019 and extends all the way out to 2027, assuming DPW can renovate at a rate of three to four buildings a year.
"As we looked at what spaces we would like to do a project in, based on the age and condition of the building, we came up with a list of 31 that are either old enough or have known issues that we'd like to work on," Watson said. "We moved the ones in the worst shape to the front of the line."
The three barracks in this phase of renovation - B7842, B7846 and B7850 - have long histories. All were built in 1970 and have undergone minor renovations over the years. Watson explained that the HVAC systems and some interior components were repaired in 2006, bringing them up to the standards at the time. However, B7842 sustained major damage from a lightning strike and has sat empty since 2015. The other two stopped housing Soldiers in 2018.
When the Army's Installation Management Command began its Army Barracks Management Program in 2018, Fort Riley's DPW jumped at the opportunity to fix them up. The ABMP continues targeted investments of the barracks modernization program and ensures the Army maintains its commitment to improving the quality of life of the unaccompanied Soldier, according to IMCOM's website.
"Those barracks were a challenge," Watson said. "We had HVAC challenges, plumbing challenges in those. When this barracks program came to life at IMCOM, we said 'we have three buildings right next to each other that would make a great project to get that program going.'"
After identifying their priority projects, DPW had to secure the funding. Julie Poyser, chief of the Business Operations Division, DPW, explained that there is a facilities sustainment model that determines the requirements to sustain, restore and modernize all the facilities within the Army.
Poyser said congress typically funds about 80 to 90% of that most years. Then, IMCOM sets aside a percentage of that money for a competitive program - the Restoration and Modernization Program.
"There is a centralized pot of funding that we compete for every year," Poyser said. "It's not just for barracks, it's for all of our facilities. IMCOM publishes guidance and we try to pick the most competitive buildings and we get to submit our top five projects every year. We've been pretty successful over the past few years at getting projects funded through the R&M program."
Any funding left over is then distributed to the installations for sustainment projects, which is what determines each installation's budget to do service orders and projects to sustain buildings every year.
After the project is identified and the funding is secured, DPW's Engineering Services Division works on the design. The team said this task can involve various levels of challenge, depending on what the building was originally built for compared to what new features the renovations require.
Brett Deam, architect, Engineering Services Division, likened the task of renovating B7842, B7846 and B7850 to fitting a square peg into a round hole.
"There's a lot of things to take into account," Deam said. "You have the national standards for the scope of work, what type of rooms will go in the building, how many bathrooms per building, and so forth. And we're trying to design all these things to fit into a building that wasn't designed that way."
In the case of these three buildings, the issues stem largely from changes in national standards. During the 2006 renovations, each space was renovated to include a "Jack and Jill" style shared bath in between two rooms that were capable of supporting two soldiers each.
But in 2012, the Army developed a new "1+1 enhanced configuration" standard. This renovation will convert the three barracks from the 2006 standard to a 1+1 enhanced configuration, which is composed of two private sleeping rooms with walk-in closets connected by a shared bathroom and kitchen area.
"For a while, we've had a lot of haves and have nots on Custer Hill," Watson said. "Some folks were living in the older buildings without the same amenities as those in the newer barracks. Now, we're trying to take the older buildings and make them look like the newer buildings so that we don't have as much disparity between the two, so that anywhere you live on the hill will provide the same functionality."
In addition to adding the kitchen spaces into the new layouts, space formerly used for company operations on the buildings' first floors will be converted into barracks rooms, which will increase the number of living spaces from 84 to 100 per building.
"It's really easy to move the walls on a dry erase board, but when it actually comes to structural wall movement, that's another issue," said Alan Ingwersen, assistant master planner, Master Planning Division. "That's where space requirements become a challenge."
Deam noted that structural changes aren't the only considerations.
"It's not just about the requirements. Now you also have to consider colors, materials, everything that's going into the rooms," Deam said. "Because all that can change morale."
The master planning team agreed that the morale of the Soldiers is a huge consideration when they create their design plans.
"I came into the Army in 1973," Ingwersen said. "We lived in WWII barracks and the wind just blew right through them; it wasn't very nice for the Soldiers. We slept in bunks and everything was open - open bay, open latrines. Between 2003 and 2012, I've been (the) project manager for 25 new barracks that were built to the 1+1 standards. So, that's over 3,000 Soldiers that get to have better living conditions than I had."
As the project progresses through the design phase, with interior demolitions scheduled to begin this spring, the project team is looking forward to seeing the results of their labors.
"It wasn't just renovating barracks and saying 'let's put a room here,'" Deam said. "It was a vested interest on the part of everybody here trying to create the best product we can. I think everybody worked really hard to make that happen. I'm excited to see it when it's done."
"Really, the goal of our mission is to boost morale and provide better living conditions for these soldiers," said Blanchard Brown, engineering technician, Master Planning Division. "We sometimes get lost in the mechanics of what's going on, but at the end of the day, it's really gratifying to see the project through from start to finish."