KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany, - It's the newest "gem" in U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern's crown of Army installations.
Last October, Installation Management Command officially acquired Sembach Kaserne, formerly known as Sembach annex, from the U.S. Air Force, which had occupied it since the early 1950s.
Prior to the turnover, many of Sembach's facilities had fallen into disrepair as the future of the small installation nestled in the rural farm hills northeast of Ramstein Air Base remained unclear.
As a result, anyone who has stepped foot onto Sembach recently will notice this jewel is in need of polishing, and members of both the USAG Baden-Württemberg and Kaiserslautern garrisons are working to bring back the base's luster.
"We're fortunate to have Sembach Kaserne as part of our garrison. We have been working over the past year to prepare Sembach to receive our first tenant organizations and recently the 18th Military Police [Brigade] became the first large organization to be stationed out in Sembach," said USAG-KL Commander Lt. Col. Lars Zetterstrom.
"Our goal is to continue to integrate Sembach into the Kaiserslautern community. It's not a separate community. It's a kaserne that is part of USAG Kaiserslautern and the overall Kaiserslautern military community."
Members of the USAG Kaiserslautern Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Directorate of Public Works have taken on the bulk of the multi-faceted mission to restore and revitalize the installation.
Sembach currently houses a commissary, post office, bowling center (with a Warrior Zone inside), fitness center, gas station, fire station, Exchange shoppette, TKS concessionaire, an elementary and middle school (with plans for a new K-8 school in fiscal year 2016), a Community Bank, vehicle registration office, theater, community center, chapel, sports fields and Soldiers' barracks.
Several community members have voiced concerns about conditions on the base, specifically the lack of FMWR facilities, base services, limited facility operating hours and family housing.
"We're in the process of making Sembach a great place and we ask that people be patient with us because it takes a lot of time. We received the mission first and the time and money afterward," said Steven Pelletier, FMWR USAG Kaiserslautern director. "The services are coming; they are on their way but it will take us time to get there."
Some of the major projects underway include renovations to the fitness center.
"We are doing a $2 million renovation of the hull of the building, replacing the roof, windows and some renovations to the inside of the facility. We're also realigning the locker rooms and shower rooms, creating laundry spaces, correcting some deficiencies in the floors and taking down walls to give ourselves more programming space," Pelletier said.
The facility will remain open during the improvements.
Repairs are also being made to the community club which will provide a meeting place for community members, Family Readiness Groups and unit functions and a Java Café is also being constructed that will feature Starbucks coffee, sandwich wraps, salads and other grab-and-go items.
Both are scheduled to open next summer.
Pelletier also revealed that the Exchange is planning to build a Subway sandwich shop in the existing shoppette.
"There is a plan to increase more food options. DeCA, AAFES and I are doing an assessment to actually figure out how many eating facilities are right for the population that we will have at Sembach at the end of the day. Right now, people can eat the grab-and-go food at the shoppette and they can dine at the bowling center or Wednesday through Sunday they can dine at the deli at the commissary," he said.
The commissary is also looking at extending its hours to support the anticipated increase in the base population.
Currently the facility is open Wednesday through Sunday. However, there are still no plans to add a base dining facility.
In regard to housing concerns, there are newly renovated single Soldier barracks available but according to IMCOM-Europe officials, there are currently no plans to provide on-post family housing for Soldiers stationed on Sembach.
In 2007 the Air Force condemned numerous rows of vacant housing and there are no plans to renovate the units.
Families will instead report to the Ramstein Housing office to be assigned on post housing if available or receive assistance in locating off post rentals.
"I love Sembach. It's a great place and it will be a beautiful installation and work area when it's done," said Bill Holz, Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works for USAG Kaiserslautern. "It's a gem but like any gem it needs some polishing and IMCOM is investing significantly in Sembach."
In fact, IMCOM-Europe headquarters is scheduled to relocate to Sembach next year. Holz and his staff are responsible for handling the day to day maintenance issues on the installation.
DPW extended its maintenance contract in the garrison to include an on post work center.
The work center is responsible for grass cutting, snow and ice removal and performing routine service requirements.
German waste disposal company Jakob Becker is contracted to collect trash but Holz urged tenants and residents to contact DPW directly if there are problems.
DPW just received funding to renovate the pavilion and picnic areas, but Holz said they don't have a definite deadline for when the work will begin. No decision has been made on the future of the sports fields.
Holz added that the library and base health clinics will not be reopened but instead will be used for office space, and the Tiger Theater will become a meeting place for units and residents.
"It will be a little while before you begin to see a lot of these projects come online but they will be coming. These are multi-million dollar projects and it takes time to actually sign the contract, do a design and get the work started," he said.
Holz said another major project on the horizon is the 5th Signal and AT&T upgrade of the base's fiber optic network.
Although it will take some time, Holz and others involved in the collective effort to restore the base agree that Sembach Kaserne is well on its way to becoming a premier installation.
"Sembach is a beautiful location and anyone who has not been here will be really amazed by its natural beauty. It's also a rural and scenic location. If you are there now just know that you are being integrated in the community and we are going to work hard to ensure that Sembach is a place that people know is important. It's a critical new addition to our kaserne portfolio and to the garrison," Zetterstrom said.