FORT POLK, La. -- At the forefront of Fort Polk's Directorate of Public Works mission is the Barracks Modernization Program. Renovations to aging barracks are expected to increase the lifespan and improve the quality of life for unaccompanied enlisted personnel.

However, Fort Polk's version of the Barracks Modernization is slightly different than the rest of the Army.

A major concern at Fort Polk is the aging barracks and providing quality, mold free living spaces for single Soldiers. The buildings here were designed for a 50-year lifespan; therefore replacements aren't scheduled to begin until 2028.

Of the post's 34 barracks, 31 VOLARs (volunteer Army era) are between 28 and 35 years old.

The difficulty in securing funds for barracks, coupled with harsh conditions and several years of less than adequate preventive measures, have contributed to the current conditions. Living spaces lack sufficient heating and cooling, ventilation is nonexistent, and site drainage is ineffective. These factors have each contributed to mold and mildew issues, which have a potential to affect the health and quality of life for Fort Polk Soldiers.

"One Soldier, One Room" is Fort Polk's answer to the Army standard (1+1). Current inventory on post prohibits converting VOLAR barracks to 1+1 through renovation. The One Soldier, One Room concept provides a Soldier with a private room, kitchenette, latrine and large closet, achieving the square foot requirement established by Installation Management Command.

Renovations in the amount of $221.5 million are currently ongoing; they are divided over a three phase Barracks Modernization Program. Repairs and upgrades are also being made to the central energy plants and distribution systems , providing better heating and cooling capabilities for a majority of the barracks. Four CEPs and more than 20 miles of piping will be replaced and upgraded.

During renovations DPW and the Corps of Engineers are addressing energy efficiency in the barracks, and reducing the amount of moisture in living spaces. To achieve this goal the plan is to replace the barracks' brick faAfASade. Additionally, stairwell and courtyard spaces will be enclosed to provide climate control. Rooms will have thermostat controls.

Along with aesthetic changes, Fort Polk is implementing a few "best practices" that include resurfacing, staining and polishing of existing concrete floors. Plans are in the works to place solar powered lights in and around the barracks areas providing safety and security for residents. An additional safety measure includes installing a fire sprinkler system throughout the facility. Research is being done to reduce the need for landscaping upkeep, reducing the carbon footprint and water usage for irrigation.

Drainage and erosion are contributing factors to moisture problems in the barracks. Plans are to redirect storm runoff, create better drainage systems and engineer building crawl spaces to prevent water retention. Close to $6 million is dedicated to this portion of the project.

DPW cannot accomplish these projects alone. COE is providing overall project management, design and quality assurance. DPW has received support from the COE districts at Fort Worth,Aca,!E+Texas, Huntsville, Ala., and the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory located in Illinois. DPW has teamed with the CERL staff to test mold remediation methods, existing testing technology as well as anti-microbial treatments that will assist in the battle against mold.

This teamwork is exemplary, said Ellis Smith, Fort Polk's DPW director. "Our team has worked hard to obtain this funding to enhance the living conditions for our unaccompanied Soldiers. The execution of these projects will require close coordination between DPW, COE and the Soldiers that will benefit from the enhancements. Thanks to everyone involved who assisted us in reaching this milestone."

The battle will continue in the fight against mold, repairing aging barracks and the continued efforts to acquire additional funding. It is estimated that Fort Polk will require an additional $300 million to continue the existing strategy, and bring the remaining 18 barracks to an equal and much needed level of quality.

Several courses of action have been generated, including competing for Military Construction, Army funding to build new replacement barracks as well as fielding a pilot program for a Privatized Barracks Initiative.

A privatized initiative with a long-term Residential Communities Initiative partner will show results quickly. Such long-term benefits would include greater quality-of-life improvements, with less tax payer money, maintenance teams and overall barracks management.

The BMP is directly related to retaining quality Soldiers so that the future force is not living in 1980s era facilities in 2020.

This project will show Fort Polk's commitment to quality of life improvements and its impact on Soldier morale. By 2012 over half of the installation barracks will have been upgraded to a One Soldier One Room design.

Barracks modernization and winning the battle against mold is a small token to show Soldiers the nation's appreciation for their sacrifices and service.