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5 military construction trends

5 military construction trends

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

By By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | May 31, 2012
The Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Fort Lupton Readiness
The Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Fort Lupton Readiness Center.
This article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of BD+C.

After a few years of explosive growth, the U.S. military building construction budget is getting slashed. The boom that erupted seven years ago was prompted by two immense Defense Department initiatives: the September 2005 report of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission, which determined which military bases would be shut down and which would be beefed up; and the Army’s Grow the Force directive, which was put in place to staff the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

BRAC ended last year, and the force development program is expected to be completed in 2013. The troop withdrawal in Iraq and projected drawdowns in Afghanistan mean the Army and Marines will reduce their forces—providing further incentive for DoD to slash construction budgets to pre-2005 levels.

The Obama Administration’s proposed military construction budget for fiscal year 2013 is $11.2 billion, down 24% from FY2012. With less work available, competition for DoD contracts has been as fierce as anyone has witnessed in the last decade.

Recently, for example, Atkins Global North America (formerly PBSJ) won a $12 million contract that had 70 firms vying for the work. “That’s ridiculous,” says Major General L. Dean Fox, USAF (Ret.), the firm’s CEO. Ten years ago, he says, “We would have seen 10 or 12 competitors. It may be that, because of that project’s small size, more firms were willing to compete.” Even so, he says, it is not uncommon for 20 to 30 firms to be competing for Defense construction projects these days.

Those who continue to battle for DoD work over the next few years will have less to chase. “Nothing is going to backfill for BRAC,” says civil engineer Greg Colevas, executive vice president of Clark Construction Group, Bethesda, Md. The purse strings are already tightening. “We’ve seen a number of projects that we were tracking get cancelled,” Colevas says. These include a $500 million biological defense lab at Fort Detrick, Md.

Firms seeking military contracts need to keep abreast of these five trends:

1. Stepped-up demand for alternative procurement and delivery methods
2. Greater emphasis on fast-track scheduling and prefabricated systems
3. Taking BIM to the next level
4. Enhancing sustainability while holding down costs
5. Piloting net-zero in energy, water, and waste

Nonetheless, DoD will continue to be a prime source of contracts for many AEC firms. The $11 billion FY2013 budget is nothing to scoff at. Longer term, there is serious talk of more BRAC rounds in 2015 and 2020, which could spawn additional spending in a few years. Even if additional BRAC rounds don’t materialize, older structures at many bases are badly in need of refurbishment and efficiency upgrades. And with wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans needing ongoing medical care, military and VA hospitals will need to keep up with demand for services.



A decade ago, the military used the traditional design-bid-build project delivery method pretty much exclusively. In the intervening years, the Defense Department has embraced design-build and other alternative strategies. In FY2013, the Air Force aims to use design-build on 75% of new construction, and the Navy is targeting 60% of new projects for design-build, according to Tom Kreher, senior vice president for federal programs with McCarthy Building Companies. About 43% of new military projects are expected to use design-build next year. “Early contractor involvement and CM at risk are also being fairly widely used,” says Kreher.

DoD has fully bought into getting contractors on board early. A recent example is a BRAC project for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va., an integrated design-bid-build project with early contractor involvement. The country’s eye in the sky, NGA monitors and analyzes data from military satellites and navigation buoys around the world. The $1.46 billion project, which included a 2.2-million-sf office building, was undertaken to consolidate the agency’s operations in the mid-Atlantic region in one location.

The proposals were judged on a best-value basis and included a bidding process. Clark won the contract in a joint venture with Balfour Beatty Construction. “We set our target price and ceiling price,” Colevas says. “Our fee would be reduced if we went over the target price. If our fee exceeded our ceiling price, it would have been reduced dollar for dollar.” The advantage for the client in this delivery method is evident in early constructability and cost reviews, says Colevas.

The military has also been exploring so-called “PPPs”––public-private partnerships––for offices, family housing, and barracks in recent years. “They’re trying a lot of things to offset costs,” says Cynthia Manning, PE, PMP, LEED AP BD+C, a vice president with STV, Douglassville, Pa. A retired Commander of the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps, Manning notes that some military projects have even taken on design-build-maintain arrangements.

Many recently completed BRAC projects were performed on a design-build plus fast-track schedule, wherein the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or other DoD client requires 35% completed designs to be submitted with proposals. “They were single-phase procurements, but DoD is now shifting to two-phase procurements,” says Manning.

Manning says the Society of American Military Engineers has been working with Defense agencies to streamline the process so that design firms don’t have to invest as much time and effort in the early proposal phase. The new model has a prequalification phase based on a firm’s experience and qualifications; only the short-listed firms would create a 35% design for the second phase.

While the military has become increasingly enamored with design-build, Atkins Global’s Fox, who once oversaw the Air Force’s civil engineering corps, believes its implementation has been somewhat flawed. “I don’t think it has been as successful as envisioned,” Fox says. “Design-build was envisioned as a teaming method to come to market quicker. But you’re not necessarily getting good partnerships.”

In recent years, he says, the process has emphasized lowest first cost over best value. “The builder is squeezed to come up with the lowest price. Some adversarial relationships develop when the designer is almost a commodity.” Consequently, Defense clients are engaging with less experienced firms, in some cases even looking at offshoring for design solutions, he says.



With a strict spending deadline for the recent BRAC round, many projects had to be fast-tracked, which drove innovation, including heavy use of prefabrication. A 98,000-sf, four-story office building for the Army Legal Services Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va., is a notable example. “It was one of the last BRAC procurements, coming out late in the budget cycle,” says Mike DiNapoli, general manager of Boston-based Suffolk Construction. “There was deep concern about getting it done in time.”

The Warrior Zone – where troops can unwind

While most military projects directly support the operational mission, the Warrior Zone, located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., has a different function—boosting troop morale. Aimed at single soldiers, the 29,000-sf facility, which opened this past January, features a million dollars’ worth of high-tech gear: 16 game stations with 55-inch high-definition monitors, computers with high-speed Internet access, dozens of 52-inch HDTVs, and 32 custom gaming computers. Pool tables, a movie theater, a restaurant and bar, and a 4,000-sf covered patio round out the amenities. Funding came from the military’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, derived solely from soldier’s on-base spending at recreational facilities around the world.
Stellar Group, headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., gave the facility a postmodern look with juxtaposing geometrical shapes, translucent panels, and exposed structural beams. “Because it competes with off-base entertainment options, it was essential to break free from the traditional military design mold,” says Richard M. Lovelace, vice president of Stellar’s commercial division.
Many of the troops stationed at Lewis-McChord have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder. The Warrior Zone was conceived to encourage camaraderie among a generation that grew up with video games and technological gadgetry. “The idea is for soldiers not to sequester themselves in their rooms,” says STV vice president Dwyn Taylor, a retired captain in the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. Sharing war stories in the Warrior Zone, it is hoped, will help soldiers cope better with combat stress.—Peter Fabris

Facing a tight 12-month delivery schedule to meet the Congressional deadline, the CM-at-risk Building Team, which included Perkins+Will as primary design partner and BCRA Design on interior design, used a compressed design schedule. “We had to get into construction documents almost immediately,” recalls DiNapoli. That task was enabled by “unusually active participation from end-users for a government contract,” he says.

Extensive prefabrication helped the project meet its ambitious timetable. SlenderWall, a lightweight exterior precast concrete system, was an important component of the project. “We had the entire skin up within four weeks after the concrete frame went up,” DiNapoli says. Electrical and mechanical systems, including the two-part mechanical penthouse, were fabricated off site and assembled on site.

Just-in-time delivery of supplies helped keep the job site less cluttered and more efficient. To save time on commissioning, the fire alarm system was inspected off site. DiNapoli says that having a Suffolk Construction employee dedicated full-time to quality control throughout the project helped ensure construction quality and minimize last-minute corrective work.



With BIM gaining widespread adoption for design in military projects, the armed forces are looking to take parametric modeling to the next step—using the technology for operations and maintenance. “DoD uses a fair amount of Web-based applications for building management,” says Hansen. “There’s been quite a bit of discussion to link data from BIM to those applications.” Kurt Ubbelohde, Leo A Daly’s corporate director of federal programs, points out that the Navy has taken to calling BIM “building information management,” not “modeling.”

Another key development involving BIM is standardization of designs. “We’re shifting from a one-off procurement basis to massive numbers of housing, dining, and headquarters facilities that can be done through a centers-of-standardization approach,” Ubbelohde says. BIM is an essential tool for achieving and using standard designs that are readily adaptable to local conditions.



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.



The armed forces branches have all undertaken pilot net-zero energy projects in partnership with the Department of Energy’s NetZero program. Half of all Navy and Marine Corps installations are projected to be net-zero energy by 2020. The Air Force is using wind, solar, and thermal power generation at many of its installations.

DoD military hospitals a billion-dollar opportunity for AEC firms

Medical projects figure prominently in the Pentagon’s building construction plans. For FY2013, DoD is proposing to spend $1 billion for 21 projects to upgrade medical infrastructure.
BIM and prefabrication figured prominently in the $826 million renovation and expansion of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the military’s largest medical facility, in Bethesda, Md. The BRAC project included over 725,000 sf of new construction, which was completed six weeks ahead of schedule, and 450,000 sf of renovations, which had to be conducted while maintaining full hospital operations. The project achieved LEED Gold certification.
“We had to shut down work when surgery was being performed because vibrations could have disturbed the procedures,” recalls Greg Colevas, EVP of Clark Construction Group, LLC, Bethesda, Md. “Before we went into a space, we met with clinicians and told them exactly what we were going to do.” Any above-ceiling work had to be carefully planned and scheduled. “If we cut a line above a ceiling, it could have impacted [medical] equipment during a surgical operation,” Colevas says.
Eight hundred construction workers were on site at the peak. Orientation for the trades included an explanation of the critical nature of the hospital’s mission, says Colevas. Special infection control measures were necessary for workers entering and exiting sensitive areas. Workers had regular interaction with employees and wounded warriors. “They saw the soldiers and had great respect for their sacrifices,” he says. “That contributed to the success of the project.”

Arguably the most ambitious effort comes from the Army. Six installations, including Fort Detrick, Md., and Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., will seek net-zero energy by 2020. The Oregon Army National Guard will pilot a net-zero initiative for all its facilities. Six other bases, including Fort Riley, Kan., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., will shoot for net-zero water use, while six installations will try for net-zero waste. Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colo., will go for the triple: net-zero energy, water, and waste.

Despite anticipated budget cutbacks, DoD construction remains a strong market. The Pentagon is seeking $14.8 billion in FY 2013 construction, including $582 million for BRAC, $1.7 billion for family housing, and $547 million to replace or renovate DoD-owned schools. While there will be cuts in the Defense budget, the military will continue to offer a steady stream of work for many AEC firms. +

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