Fort Wainwright – Under a partly cloudy sky with a cool breeze, Fort Wainwright held two groundbreaking ceremonies for new Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities July 29. The aquatic center and community activity center will bring much-needed indoor recreational opportunities to the furthest north military installation in the United States.
“Thank you to the Department of the Army, to Installation Management Command for allowing this to come to us. This is an amazing opportunity for our community. The reason we are doing this is because we are in need of more multi-functional space for our families,” said Fort Wainwright garrison commander Col. Nate Surrey.
The back-to-back ceremonies broke ground on two large community facilities totaling over $70 million dollars. Both projects are funded through the Army MWR construction fund.
In speaking to the garrison community about the new construction, Surrey said, “This is your dollars at work. Every time you go to the ski hill or the golf course or buy a burger at the Warrior Zone, that money goes back into the pot to pay for huge, wonderful facilities like this.”
The new aquatic center will be located between the Physical Fitness Center and Post Exchange in what is currently a grassy field, and it will be approximately 30,000 square feet in size.
While Fort Wainwright does already have one indoor swimming pool in Melaven Gym, it is often reserved for military training, with limited hours for recreational lap swim or family swim time. The new facility will be dedicated to family and recreational use, with Melaven becoming solely a “mission pool” dedicated to supporting soldier readiness.
To best support indoor recreational needs and desires as reflected in multiple past surveys of community interest, the aquatic center will contain more than just a 25-meter pool. It will also contain a splash pad area and a zero-depth entry pool with child-friendly water features like water sprayers and dump buckets, as well as slides.
Additionally, the facility will contain an adults-only pool deck, vending machines, seating areas and party room. There will be both men’s and women’s locker rooms as well as a family locker room.
The new community activity center will be located in the “Fort Wainwright city center” area, by the Commissary, PX, current bowling alley and hotel.
This facility will be approximately 40,000 square feet and comprise a variety of recreational features, with an indoor playground claiming a significant amount of the floor space. This will also include a toddler play area and family fitness room. Families have long requested an indoor, multi-function family space on post.
The new center will have numerous features that appeal to soldiers and families alike, however. It will contain a 16-lane modern bowling alley; electronic and traditional gaming, with multi-sport simulators and virtual reality to foosball and pool tables; an outdoor patio for summer time hangout sessions; party rooms; and food and beverage operations including food service and full bar.
Further, there will be ample comfortable seating throughout to allow for all ages to come and simply hang out at any time of the year.
“We are hearing our community’s needs, and we are investing in Fort Wainwright, our Soldiers, families and all of our patrons. These facilities will be a huge improvement for our community and greatly enhance indoor recreational opportunities, especially on our winter days that can often reach -40F! We are so excited to support this enhancement to ensure our Soldiers and families can have meaningful connections whether they are spending time in the wilderness or inside,” said Allison Long, director of the Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation directorate.
Construction will begin August 1 at both sites and continue until approximately the first significant snowfall of the season. The Aquatic Center will require “deep dynamic compaction” to prepare the ground over the first couple weeks of work, so there may be louder sounds in the vicinity of the construction site as a crane picks up and drops a weight to compress the ground for a solid foundation.
Rendering images of both facilities will be displayed in the PFC lobby for viewing by the Fort Wainwright community. Both facilities are expected to open in spring 2024.