URLAS, Germany - Construction broke ground on an $8.8 million, 26-room Army lodge at the U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach's post in Urlas recently, marking the midway point in the largest Army lodging initiative in Europe, ever.

In one large push in 2005, the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command funded five new Army lodges through nonappropriated funds at a cost of about $112 million, bringing 639 new hotel rooms to garrisons in Europe.

The smallest of the five FMWRC-funded lodges, the Ansbach lodge, which is expected to be completed in summer 2011, is the last of these five to begin construction.

"It is great to see this project awarded and about to start construction," said Francisco Torres, the Ansbach lodge project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, which is overseeing the design and construction of all five lodges. "This Army Lodge will be a great addition to the Ansbach Army Community providing new and upgraded accommodations to Soldiers and families."

The five lodges - at U.S. Army garrisons in Ansbach, Chievres, Grafenwoehr, Stuttgart, and Wiesbaden - were chosen by FMWRC based on assessments of which existing lodging facilities at enduring installations would not meet the predicted future needs.

The first lodge to break ground was the $16 million, three-story lodge at the U.S. Army Garrison Chievres, Belgium, which started construction in June 2007. The 94-room facility, which replaced the commercially-leased Hotel Le MaisiAfA..res, opened its doors to the public June 23 and puts patrons within walking distance to the BX/PX, the bank, the gym, and other on-base facilities that were once a car or shuttle ride away.

Next was the $33 million, 164-room Wiesbaden Army lodge, which broke ground in October 2007. When it opens in spring 2010, the four-story lodge - the largest of the five - will replace the American Arms Hotel and put patrons closer to the PX and commissary and literally across the street from a new entertainment center.

Next was the seven-story, $31.5 Stuttgart lodge on Panzer Kaserne, which broke ground in January 2009 and is expected to open in fall 2010. The 218-room hotel will be the fourth for the Stuttgart military community, which also has hotels at Patch, Kelley and Robinson barracks. The additional rooms help minimize the need for people to take up residence at costly city hotels.

The fourth lodge - a three-story, horse-shoe-shaped facility at Grafenwoehr - broke ground in March 2009 and is likely to be open in fall 2011. The 136-room, $24 million facility - built next to a Burger King restaurant and a bowling alley - will replace the century-old Tower Inn hotel.

All lodge rooms will include high-speed Internet access, microwaves and refrigerators, a coffee pot, and a television. The lodges will all have on-site laundry, an exercise room, a complimentary breakfast, and a section of rooms with kitchenettes. They are also all compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and current anti-terror force-protection regulations, said Sheryl Cleland, FMWRCAca,!a,,cs director of hospitality programs.

Aca,!A"The new facilities provide accommodations comparable with mid-range hotels in the United States, which have much larger rooms than are available off post,Aca,!A? Cleland said. Aca,!A"The Family Suites provide kitchenettes, with a full complement of equipment, so that Families can prepare meals in the rooms, and not have to eat at restaurants, during their whole stay. The hotel front desk staff provides information on the culture, points of interest, language tips, and events in the surrounding area. This helps reduce stress in new guests.Aca,!A?

According to Torres, there are really two important elements about these lodges. "One is that they put the Soldiers and Families who will stay there closer to the facilities they need to make PCSing smoother. If you've ever PCS'd, you'll know how important that is. The second is that the modern in design and construction of these lodges means that they'll offer new amenities, new services, and they'll be more environmentally friendly."

The Ansbach lodge is one of the latest District-managed construction projects to crop up in Urlas.

Until about two years ago, the former training range, located on Katterbach Kaserne, was filled with fallow grassland and storage bunkers. Soil first turned in mid-2008 in anticipation of 206 new townhomes constructed as part of a $106 million Army Family Housing program that is expected to accommodate Soldiers from the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade - the only U.S. aviation brigade in Europe - by summer 2010.

Other proposed projects at Katterbach include a $5 million child development center, a $16.5 million physical fitness center, a $16.5 million renovation to the vehicle maintenance center there, a $21 million commissary, and a $36.4 million health facility.

Envisaged projects include new barracks; renovations to existing Army family housing, including new roads, landscaping, parking areas and redesigned family housing units; and a pedestrian-only community center.

In total, the former training range will see about $200 million in new construction in the next five years, say planners.

"At enduring installations across Europe, we're seeing commitments to revitalize some existing facilities and, in many cases, build new facilities - operational and quality-of-life - that meet contemporary standards," said Matthew Ludwig, the District's Regional Program Manager for Stuttgart and Ansbach. "This is an important part of our military's transformation because it expresses in deeds, and not just words, that we care about their well being of our warfighters and their families."