PARKS RESERVE FORCES TRAINING AREA, Calif. -- Listen to old soldiers reminiscing and you may hear a lot of things, but you probably won’t hear stories about the wonderful living conditions they experienced.

Those days are gone. An emphasis on improved quality of life for soldiers has arrived under the broad conceptual umbrella of the Army Family Covenant. This concept, enunciated by the Secretary of the Army in 2007, emphasizes improvements to living quarters, building of child development centers and improvement to military commissaries. The goal, according to the covenant, is to provide Army families with “a quality of life commensurate with their service.”

It’s in evidence in the new quarters that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District is building at Parks Reserve Forces Training Area, near Pleasanton. It’s a state-of-the-art facility that combines improved living conditions with energy efficiency.

In a renovation of an old barracks, 28,000 square feet of living space is being converted to 30 small apartments. Each apartment will have a bedroom, bathroom, a kitchenette and a living room. Four apartments will meet Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards. Soldiers will no longer have to run down the hall to use a shared, open bathroom.

The Sacramento District awarded a $2.5 million contract for renovation of the building in October 2009 to Agbayani Construction Corp. of nearby Dublin. The project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“Each suite will feature the latest style of polymer counter tops, and floors made out of biodegradable and recycled materials,” said Terry Lang, project manager for Agbayani Construction. “All hot water for the building will be provided through the use of solar panels on the roof,” he added. “We’ll also have a hot water heater in the building as a back up.”

Each unit will also have its own window air conditioning unit. Parks can be very hot in the summer, and individual cooling units will allow the building to save energy by not turning on air conditioning for vacant units.

In a separate sustainability improvement, Parks is building a 26-by-52-foot fuel cell next to the building, which will meet 30 percent of Parks’ energy needs.

“It’s good that we’re doing a better job of taking care of soldiers,” said Gary Headley, Sacramento District project manager. Headley is a Vietnam veteran who remembers the not-so-good old days. “If soldiers are going in harm’s way for us, they deserve the best living conditions we can produce.”

The building is expected to be finished in August 2011. Approximately 50 local jobs are provided by this project, according to representatives from Agbayani Construction.