By LaDonna Davis (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District)November 24, 2009
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- When Soldiers return from overseas injured, the comforts of home and the warmth of family and friends can help provide a speedy recovery.
With that in mind, the Army has designed the Warriors in Transition program (WIT) to provide Soldiers who arenAca,!a,,ct critically injured a place to recuperate in the comfort and familiarity of their home base in close quarters with their fellow comrades, battalion leaders and families.
"Now that all of these Soldiers are coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq wounded, the idea is to let them recover in a place that keeps them with their units and allows them be closer to home and closer to family," said Joseph Valade, the WIT team leader.
The WIT program provides facilities to maximize Soldiers' healing process, and minimize the time for them to transition back to active duty or civilian status.
Currently, WIT participants at Fort Drum, N.Y., reside in older, renovated facilities. But with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District, Fort DrumAca,!a,,cs WIT program will soon move into state-of-the-art facilities.
The new facilities include redesigned, more spacious barracks, an administration facility and a convenient location, right across the street from Fort Drum's Guthrie Medical Center.
The Corps is building the WIT facility in multiple phases. Construction on the first phase began in August 2008 and is scheduled for completion in February 2010. It includes a 144-bed barracks and a two-company administration facility. The second phase, now under design, includes a Soldier and Family Assistance Center, Battalion Headquarters, and additional barracks for 48 Soldiers.
If needed, future expansion would include additional barracks space, another two-company administration facility, dining facilities and a physical therapy clinic.
Unlike barracks found elsewhere, which usually consist of a small kitchenette, two bedrooms and a bathroom, the WIT barracks have a larger kitchen, a living area, two bedrooms and one or two bathrooms. Ten percent of them comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, wheelchair accessible with adjustable counters in the kitchen and grab bars in the bathroom.
Also in keeping with ADA standards, the barracks will have an elevator big enough to handle gurneys, and regular elevators for Soldiers who are unable to climb stairs.
What really makes these facilities stand out are the innovative ways the facilities are being built. The Corps and the Army have made the transition to greener, more efficient construction, and the WIT facilities are no exception. The multiple facilities totaling more than 52,000 square feet use geothermal wells to heat and cool with ground temperature and water - saving the Army thousands of dollars each year.
Ninety percent of the interior and exterior walls were assembled in a warehouse and dropped into place at the building site, saving the Army crucial amounts of time during construction. Most importantly, the focus on a better way of doing business has allowed for construction time to be reduced nearly a third by a process called "fast-tracking."
"Fast-tracking allows us to break up the design phase into different packages," explains Edward Sim, Fort Drum program manager. "We design the foundation and utilities before the design of the whole project being complete. As design for different aspects of the project is complete, we can approve and begin construction on those designs."
"What used to take us 24 months or more to construct, now only takes 18 months or less," said Phil Favret, the WIT project manager. "This is what transformation is all about - greener, more efficient and faster construction."
Though the WIT facility is scheduled to open on time with relatively no problems, getting the project off the ground wasn't without its challenges. During the planning phase, it was discovered that the project site was covered in wetlands. As part of the Corps' environmental mission, wetlands preservation is a priority.
"We always try to minimize the impact on wetlands when designing and building," said Favret. "Initially, we were going to have 2.5 acres of wetlands that would have to be cleared, but we were able to rearrange the footprint of the site and reduce the impact on the wetlands, keeping it under a tenth of an acre."
By avoiding wetland impact, the Corps was able to begin construction earlier than originally planned in early December. This was an advantage, but also created a challenge for the contractor due to Northern New YorkAca,!a,,cs snowy, icy winter weather.
Aca,!A"Generally, we like to begin construction in the spring because it's very difficult to clear land and build when the ground is frozen and covered in snow," said Valade. "But you have to do what is necessary to get the project off the ground and completed as soon as possible."
With completion on time and quality work in mind, the Corps has ensured that the construction company, Purcell/Lawman Joint Venture, is staying on track.
"We have a good contractor," Valade said. "They've been working with the Corps for years and have built about 90 percent of the barracks facilities here at Fort Drum. The goal is to spend less time building and move our Soldiers into these facilities so they can get the help they need."