CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - On June 23, a grand opening celebration was held at the new Army Lodge on ChiAfA..vres Air Base. The Lodge opened to the first guests in early June, after almost two years of construction.

"This facility is a source of pride for the entire region," said JoAnn Chambers, chief of staff for Installation Management Command-Europe. "It is the first environmentally-friendly Lodge to be erected in Europe. It's the newest and most modern in the region."

This is the 10th Army Lodging facility in the world to be built to the new Army standard, and it's the first in Europe due in large part to the Army Corps of Engineers.

"It took a lot of toil, sweat, and commitment to ensure that this 15-million-dollar Lodge was completed on time, on scope and on budget," said Lt. Col. Anela Arcari, deputy commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, "but the effort of all of our team members was no less than our Soldiers and their Families deserve."

Before the ChiAfA..vres Lodge, most Servicemembers, civilians and their families called the Hotel le MaisiAfA..res home while they were in-processing and out-processing at SHAPE and ChiAfA..vres. One of the most notable changes between the two properties is the lengthy list of upgrades in the new Lodge.

"First and foremost, we have air-conditioning at this Lodge. Each room also has a DVD player and there is a 32-inch flat screen television in each guest room. In the suites, there are two televisions, one in the sitting area and one in the bedroom," said Lodge General Manager William Cook. But he added that is just the beginning of the improvements.

"We now have 60 family suites. We had three suites at the MaisiAfA..res Hotel. The standard rooms are also bigger than the standard rooms in the previous location. And the TV's have over 20 channels you can watch," he said.

The new Lodge has 94 rooms, including the 60 suites. Two of the standard rooms are extended-stay rooms, and four of the Lodge rooms are completely handicap accessible. Two of the ADA rooms are standard rooms and two are suites.

Comparing room sizes, it's easy to see a difference. In the Hotel MaisiAfA..res, the average size for a standard room was 262 square feet. In the Lodge, the standard room is 339 square feet and the suites are 472 square feet.

All of the suites have a two-plate range in the kitchenette portion of the room, as well as a microwave, refrigerator and dishwasher. The standard rooms have a microwave and refrigerator but do not feature the range or dishwasher. Cook said the fact that the majority of the rooms allow you to cook in them is a major improvement to the quality of life while living in the hotel.

"At the MaisiAfA..res, you couldn't cook in the rooms. Actually, because of the infrastructure you couldn't even run a hair dryer and a coffee maker in those rooms. Here, you can do that," said Cook. And yes, each room does come equipped with a coffee maker and hair dryer, as well.

There is also an Internet jack in each room where guests can link to high-speed Internet, and there is an Internet cafAfA for those travelers who do not have laptops. There is also an elevator so guests arriving with several large suitcases don't have to lug them up flights of stairs.

But the upgrades to the rooms aren't the only changes guests can look forward to. Because the Lodge is now located on ChiAfA..vres Air Base, services that were once a car or shuttle ride away are now just a short walk away.

"Patrons are within walking distance of all the stores, the credit union and the gym. That's a big thing. And if you need to board pets at the kennel, it's just down the road, so you can go down there and visit them or go on a walk," added Cook.

Lodgers at the MaisiAfA..res hotel may recall that there were 19 bungalows where families with pets could stay. The number of pet-approved rooms in the new Lodge has decreased, but there are still seven pet-approved rooms available.

The opening of the Lodge on ChiAfA..vres is also driving more service decisions. The Patriot eatery is now open every evening as another food choice for lodgers to help fill the void on Monday's when most locations on ChiAfA..vres are closed, said USAG Benelux Morale, Welfare and Recreation Director Craig Larsen.

"We are now standing up the Patriot to support the lodgers living at the hotel. They need someplace to eat and drink, and it's a nice family friendly option because it's located right next to the gym, so there's space for the kids to run around," he added. "This is helping to change the dynamic of ChiAfA..vres Garrison. The larger customer base allows us to offer more activities and events."

While lodgers will notice the big changes to the new facility and more events coming to ChiAfA..vres Garrison, they are also sure to notice the top-level customer service from the Lodge staff. Cook said not only have all the employees been working hard to keep the Lodge in top-working order, but every employee has also been taking updated line-level certification in their particular fields.

Several Lodge employees were recognized this spring by USAG Benelux leadership for their hard work and dedication, as well as their updated certifications. Cook said he sees the employees giving 100 percent every day, and that is reflected in positive ICE comments, as well as positive feedback from those staying in the rooms.

Additionally, the Education Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging association awarded the former Lodge the Silver Pineapple Award earlier in the year. That award is given out by the association to recognize properties that have achieved exceptional standards by placing a high value on professional development, training and continuing education.

Ron Witcher, the IMCOM-Europe Lodging manager, told Cook that this award exemplified the quality of his efforts in training and developing his front line and supervisory employees. "This is one more event in a long history of motivating your employees and other managers to strive for professional certifications and personal development," he added.

Cook said watching the Lodge be constructed has felt a little like Christmas each day. "Everything is so new; it's great for the Servicemembers and their families. This is helping Army Lodging move forward into the 21st century," he said.