URLAS TRAINING AREA, Germany -- Ansbach is in the middle of a transformation.

The U.S. Army garrison opened the doors to new family housing and a community activity center this summer. Construction began on two child development centers and an auto skills center this fall as well as a new physical fitness center is in design.

Today, the community celebrated the completion of another new facility.

Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach and Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation opened the doors to the new 26-room Army lodge with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 14 in the hotel's lobby.

Army lodges are a key element of a Soldier's transition into Europe, especially for those who have never been stationed overseas, said Col. D. Peter Helmlinger, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District commander.

"This is a Soldier's first and last impression of Germany," he said. "Here, Grafenwoehr, Stuttgart -- all across Germany we've transformed the reception for Soldiers and their families as they come into Europe and as they prepare to depart."

"This is a very key time in a Solider's life. This transition period is a golden period because it's during this transition that you're going to make your impressions about Germany -- good, bad or indifferent," added Col. Kelly Lawler, USAG Ansbach commander. "I think this facility is going to set up the community, both inside of our fence and outside, to have a good impression of being here in Germany."

The new lodge will replace the Franconian Inn, which opened in 1972 after renovation work transformed the former barracks facilities into a hotel.

"It was turned into a hotel after major renovations and we did the last project there in 1998," Lawler said. "We've basically kept that facility running through self-help projects, duct tape … whatever it took to keep the facility running. Since its last major renovation 12 years ago, we knew we needed something better for our Soldiers, families and civilians."

The $10 million lodge provides 26 rooms to in-coming and out-going members -- six standard rooms, one extended-stay room with a kitchenette, and 19 extended-stay suites with separate bedrooms, living areas and kitchenettes. Some of the safety features include fire-retardant doors, alarms, security cameras, and a fire and emergency alert system throughout the hotel and in every room. The new lodge also meets the American with Disabilities Act guidance.

Even more important, the lodge provides a level of quality incoming Soliders and families would expect in the U.S., said Tracy Deikun, Ansbach lodge hotel manager.

"The rooms are larger and the increased room capacity helps eliminate some of the claustrophobia guests feel in the current lodge," she said. "One of the rooms is a handicap room with a larger entry, lower kitchen cabinets and a wheel-in shower. Three of the rooms, two suites and one standard are pet-friendly rooms."

Although the new lodge has fewer rooms, their quality is better than those in the Franconian Inn.

"This is truly what our Soliders, civilians and their families deserve after 10 years of persistent conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan," Lawler said. "They deserve a place where they feel at home."

USACE, FMWR and the garrison broke ground in April 2010 and the project was completed last month with little conflict and delay, said Kerstin Huber, Urlas project manager for the garrison's Directorate of Public Works.

"No problems, no big surprises," she said. "Actually, one of the smoothest projects ever."

The successful completion is largely contributed to the team effort between all parties, Helmlinger said.

"We are just one member of a larger partnership that brought this together, including the garrison, FMWR, the Bauamt, our contractor and many others that helped deliver this first-class facility here," he said.

"This is truly a team effort," Lawler added.

With the lodge complete and other projects in the works, all parties are looking forward to the next team gathering.

"This community is really starting to blossom now," Helmlinger said. "I last left Germany in 2005. I was in Grafenwoehr yesterday so I was privy to see the before and after, and I'm excited to see the similar transformation that's taking place here at Ansbach."