Defense spending may be down somewhat, but there’s still plenty of project dollars out there if you know where to look.

May 31, 2012


The military is strongly committed to enhancing sustainability. In fact, if its most ambitious goals are reached, the Defense Department could become a green standard bearer. DoD’s enormous portfolio—more than 300,000 buildings totaling 2.2 billion sf of space—make efficiency critical, especially in an increasingly cost-conscious atmosphere. According to Dr. Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Installations and Environment, “DoD has a footprint three times that of Walmart and six times that of the GSA. Our corresponding energy bill is $4 billion annually.”

Twin Salutes to History––The USMA’s Jefferson Hall and The Pearl Harbor visitor center

Achieving aesthetic excellence is rarely a high priority on military construction projects, but the new Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum & Visitor Center in Hawaii and Jefferson Hall at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., are notable exceptions to that rule.
Designed by the Portico Group, with the assistance of Mason Architects, and built by Watts Constructors, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Weitz Company, the new Visitor Center is 55,000 sf of shaded and enclosed spaces encompassing 17 acres. This new eight-building complex tripled the original 1980s-era facility’s display space to 17,750 sf and upgraded the quality of the exhibits. A phased construction plan enabled the Building Team to keep the facility open with minimal disruption to the 4,500 daily visitors during two years of construction.
STV led the transformation of the historic Jefferson Hall at West Point into a state-of-the-art library and interactive learning center. The 141,000-sf, six-story granite and glass building provides a harmonious update on the Academy’s 19th-century Military Gothic style.
Where history is to be honored, aesthetics are held in high regard, even in the typically austere military construction sector.—Peter Fabris

For the military, security is also linked to energy efficiency. “DoD installations are almost entirely dependent on a commercial power grid that is vulnerable to disruption due to aging infrastructure, weather-related events, and (potentially) direct attacks,” Robyn said.

Recent DoD projects include some notable efficiency accomplishments. An $18 million, 50,000-sf Army Reserve Center project designed by STV and now under construction in Chester, Pa., will feature geothermal heating, a photovoltaic array, and solar hot water. Those green systems are rare features in the military market, and only get the go-ahead if payback is clearly justified.

“In the last couple of years, almost all RFPs have required life cycle cost analysis,” says STV’s Manning. The planned use of the facility and site properties dictate to a large extent what green features will be used. “This reserve center is a high-use facility where troops spend weeks in training,” she says. “Demand for utilities will be high—so PVs and solar hot water makes sense—and the thermal properties of the ground make it suitable for geothermal.”

Atkins Global designed a fitness center for Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla., at a time when the minimum standard was LEED Silver. “It was designed at the height of desire for LEED standards,” says Fox. “We went to the client and said we can deliver more than LEED Silver for the same price.” In fact, the firm delivered a LEED Platinum project at less than 90% of the government-estimated cost. Green components include daylighting, passive solar heat, graywater recycling, and solar hot water for showers. The building consumes 40% less energy than other buildings of similar size.

Paul Hansen, AIA, LEED AP, a project manager with Flad Architects, Madison, Wis., notes that research facilities are among the military’s largest utility users. A current Flad project, the 526,255-gsf U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., will employ a glycol-based heat recovery system to reduce energy costs.

The DoD has sent mixed signals over the past year on sustainability, so whether such lofty green accomplishments will be widely repeated is questionable. After Congress earlier this year voted to prevent the DoD from spending any financial premium to achieve LEED Gold or Platinum certification, military officials have made statements that seem to signal a retreat on LEED standards.

In recent Congressional testimony, Deputy Under Secretary Robyn said the DoD was evaluating whether to continue to use LEED as a standard, adding that the Defense Department was developing its own rating system based on ASHRAE standards. In recent months the Corps of Engineers, which at one time had its own rating system, known as SPiRiT, said it was going to develop an alternative to LEED.

Whether LEED is a factor or not, it is clear that improving sustainability across the board is a high priority for the military. DoD continues to budget for building upgrades to cut utility costs and environmental impact. For example, architecture/engineering giant Leo A Daly recently developed a tool called the Installation Sustainability Assessment that evaluates operations, buildings, grounds, policies, and behaviors regarding sustainability on bases.

“It was developed primarily for the Air Force’s air combat command unit, but other major commands can use it as well,” says Leo A Daly’s Ubbelohde, a retired USACE colonel and Fellow of the Society of American Military Engineers. The tool provides the big picture on current sustainability levels for each installation and challenges base personnel to improve current practices.

Such an assessment is important, he says, because energy metering hasn’t been mandatory for military facilities. The Air Force and other service branches needed points of reference to evaluate the efficiency of current building systems and estimate how much could be saved by replacing or upgrading them.


Comments on: "5 military construction trends"