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At ease

At ease

By By Larry Flynn, Senior Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200401 issue of BD+C.

Close up, amid saplings and green lawns in a courtyard enclosed by brick and vinyl-sided townhouses, you'd think you were viewing another cookie-cutter housing development anywhere in Suburbia, USA. Zoom back, though, and you'll see that you're in the middle of a military base, looking at a distinctive 190-unit bachelor enlisted quarters at Brunswick (Maine) Naval Air Station.

"It looks more like a garden-style apartment complex" than a BEQ, says Michael Tague, principal with JSA Inc., Portsmouth, N.H., which designed the decidedly unmilitary-looking $14 million development in a design-build venture with Shaw Beneco Inc., Sandy, Utah. Completed in September 2002, the new quarters are a big improvement over the buildings they replaced, which were built in the 1950s and are being torn down in phases, according to station spokesman, Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Conn.

Housing 380 enlisted personnel in a set of eight- and 10-unit buildings, the project is part of a $60 million master plan JSA developed for the Navy 10 years ago. The plan calls for 800 new units of bachelor and family housing types on the station. JSA has two other design-build projects at Brunswick NAS: a 72-unit phased family housing development completed in 2002 with Shaw Beneco, and a $22.6 million, 500-bed transient BEQ for personnel on temporary assignment, which is to be completed in September in conjunction with the Korte Co., Highland, Ill.

The master plan was developed following a round of Defense Department base realignments and closings, called BRACs, which led to the station's expansion. "A lot of housing is located off the post at Brunswick," says Tague. "We wanted a better quality of housing and to put as much housing as possible back onto the post."

The renovation and replacement of old and poorly maintained unaccompanied personnel living quarters and family housing, such as that found at Brunswick, is taking place at military installations throughout the country. This new housing is being designed to accommodate the lifestyle and needs of today's military personnel and their families. "Our military leaders recognize that our sailors and Marines are looking for a lifestyle that approximates what they might expect to see in the civilian world," says Naval Facilities Engineering Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly.

"We are responding to the same progression of society and culture as the private sector," says Michael Bratlien, deputy civil engineer for the Air Force's Air Education Training Command.

Years of wear and tear and poor maintenance have taken their toll on existing housing and support facilities. A congressional report issued by the General Accounting Office last February stated that 68% of military installations are in substandard condition. "We have an aging infrastructure just like everyone else, but we also have an out-of-date infrastructure that has to be brought up to standard," Bratlien says.

Since the advent of the all-volunteer military in the 1970s, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and individual service branches have recognized the chasm that exists between the quality of training and education provided to servicemen and women and what they experience when off duty, with housing being a significant factor in retaining and recruiting personnel. The Air Force plans to bring its inadequate unaccompanied permanent party housing up to standard by 2007, while the Army aims to complete this mission by 2010.

Since 1997, the Air Force has spent $100-200 million a year on its Dorm Master Plan to renovate and construct new dormitories for permanent party personnel. From 1994-2008, the Army is spending $10 billion to modernize its permanent party single soldier housing. In 2001, the Navy set sail with its Homeport Ashore BEQ program aimed at meeting new quality and design standards by 2013, while providing sailors quarters when the ships are in port, rather than aboard their ships. The services are also providing funding for transient housing.

The complex’s central community building contains a large communal lounge.

"The Navy now addresses the quality of life of enlisted personnel, and one focus area is the configuration and quality of living quarters provided for bachelor enlisted personnel," says Kelly. The objective, he says, is to make it attractive for enlisted personnel to want to continue their careers in the military.

Design standards focus on privacy

The effort to improve design standards for unaccompanied permanent party and transient housing traces back to 1995, when Defense Secretary William Perry instituted new construction standards intended to afford unaccompanied enlisted personnel more privacy and amenities.

More indicative of what one might find in a college dormitory or a private-sector apartment, 1+1 Unaccompanied Enlisted Personnel Housing consisted of a standard module (34-36 gross square meters), with two living/sleeping rooms, a common bath, and a kitchen/service area for two enlisted members. In 2001, the living/sleeping rooms were enlarged from 11 square meters to 17 square meters and construction of private modules was permitted.

Variations of the 1+1 module include two people to a living/sleeping room with shared bath (2+0 module) and one for four enlisted members, with two to a living/sleeping room and a shared bath (2+2 module).

In May 2003, the Army established the two-bedroom/one bath module as its standard, requiring the installation of stove or cook tops and laundries in the barracks, as well as the elimination of soldier community buildings, which contained lounges and kitchens and connected the individual wings of a barracks.

The Air Force has three different standards addressing housing for its first-term single enlisted personnel, which represent 95% of its housing focus. The level of privacy and amenities increases as they rise in rank. For new recruits in basic training, open bays with gang latrines remain the standard. When they move on to technical training, the standard is two to a room with a complete bath. When assigned to an operational unit, the standard is one to a room with bath, common living area, and kitchen. "As these individuals are 'blued' into the Air Force, it is important that we provide a platform for training and study," says Bratlien. "As they progress, the standard upgrades and provides incentive."

JSA's townhouse design of the Brunswick BEQs is a variation on the 1+1 module. Although the RFP featured a more standard module design, it stated that the Navy preferred a townhouse design without stacked units, says Tague. JSA was able to fit its townhouse design to the Navy's standard criteria for area and amenities. "We redesigned their standard 1+1 and came up with a prototype townhouse unit," he says. "We gave them the size of rooms they required. There's more privacy because the rooms are upstairs, and we gave them two lavatories."

James Robbins, director of design for Robbins Jorgensen Christopher, San Diego, favors the garden apartment style for unaccompanied enlisted quarters, because it provides a higher level of privacy. But he says that the Marine Corps "pulled back" from its use of the design because it provided "too much" privacy. Their standard is the 2+2 module.

Living quarters, such as the townhouse-style bachelor enlisted quarters at Brunswick (Maine) Naval Air Station, afford unaccompanied personnel greater comfort and privacy intended to promote retention.

The issue of privacy is also being extended to bathroom facilities, says Bratlien. An OSD policy calls for the elimination of gang latrines in unaccompanied permanent party housing by 2007. "All of the services are on track to accomplish that," says Joe Sikes, DOD's director of housing and competitive sourcing.

The most recent design standard change by the OSD even eliminates semi-private baths. Beginning with FY 2003 appropriated projects, the services began issuing RFPs containing the OSD's "Modified 1+1" standard, an efficient four-bedroom cluster with one unaccompanied person to a room, each now with a private bath and a small common area with a kitchenette.

Though more bedrooms have been added to the modules, the square footage of the modules has stayed about the same. "They've gotten very efficient with storage spaces," says Bratlien. "The bedrooms have actually gotten a little smaller, but there are more amenities."

A mission accomplished

When Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Henderson was given his first assignment with the Army in 1975, the housing accommodations included a bedroom shared with two other men and a gang latrine. "What they have now is amazing," says the senior enlisted advisor in charge of the barracks for the Fort Leavenworth (Kan.) garrison. This includes the fort's new $25 million whole barracks complex, completed last April. Designed by the Army Corps of Engineers and built by Walton Construction, Kansas City, Mo., the complex houses 288 enlisted personnel (mostly military police and medical personnel) in four buildings. The four wings are connected at a 15,000-sf soldier community center, which features a lounge, a recreation room, and laundry facilities. Although the community center has a kitchen, separate kitchens are being added to each of the wings. "When I walk into these quarters, I'm very impressed," says Henderson.

To promote unit integrity, Army companies are housed together in 1+1 modules on each of the building's three floors, with noncommissioned officer rooms located in single apartments on each floor of each wing.

Mixed-use is also playing a role in some unaccompanied personnel quarters. Two of the four barracks in the renovation of Quad F in the Army's historic Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii (think From Here to Eternity), are being transformed into administrative offices. Designed by Honolulu-based Group 70 International in partnership with Ocean House Builders, Honolulu, the $48 million project completes in March.

"In the old days, there was a segregation of the barracks and the operational support facilities," says Jim Nishimoto, Group 70's principal and president. "Now they're combining things so single soldiers can easily walk from their housing facility to where they work. It's more efficient."

Because of the added amenities contained in the new design standards, the number of personnel housed in the renovated quarters often is fewer than was housed in the facility previously. This is the case with the recently completed renovation of a 432-unit base officers quarters at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas. "There was a reduction in capacity," says Jeff Labenz-Hough, senior project manager in HDR's San Antonio office. "Some sacrifices needed to be made to meet the spatial requirements of the new design." HDR faced a similar situation in an Air Force dormitory renovation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. "The installation had to make some decisions as to what parts of the 1+1 they wanted us to meet and not to meet," Labenz-Hough says.

Adaptive reuse is solving some single enlisted housing needs. Last year, Sundt Construction, Tempe, Ariz., gutted the interior of the Navy Hospital in San Diego's Balboa Park and converted it to a multipurpose BEQ that houses 285 sailors. The nine-story, $18 million BEQ 26 resembles a private market apartment complex, says Ron Brown, Sundt's SVP and chief strategic officer.

Military standards guide the design of interior spaces for unaccmpanied personnel housing, but the aesthetic of the exterior usually is in keeping with the installation's existing architecture. Though the level of design dictated by the military on these projects varies, it can be limiting, says Mark Boekenheide, managing partner with BBGM/Architects & Interiors, Washington, D.C. "At times they may get specific in the color of brick or the color of a metal roof," he says. "This tends to make the buildings look the same. I'm a true believer that a building should reflect the character of its use."

The military is also upgrading the quality of materials and systems it wants used on projects. Standing seam metal roofs are popular because of their durability and low maintenance requirements. Hallways of the barracks at Fort Leavenworth are "soldier proofed" through the use of impact-resistant gypsum wallboard.

Sustainability has become a priority in the military, with each branch of service requiring housing projects to meet some level of greenness. The Army requires all of its projects to achieve a bronze rating under its Sustainable Project Rating Tool (SPiRiT) program, but in 2006 the standard moves to Gold. The Navy's Air Education Training Command projects must meet the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Certified standard, even though they are not required to go through the actual certification process. "Green design for us really means life cycle cost and the use of recycled products," says the Air Force's Bratlien.

Further changes ahead

With the pressure on to retain forces due to the buildup of military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military will continue to focus heavily on its housing improvement programs. Although the DOD is planning another round of base realignment and closings for 2005, housing director Sikes says that only about 10-15% of installations have been affected in previous BRACs. However, the Army has put a hold on all installation improvement projects until Congress selects the installations to be affected.

As the DOD develops its 2005 budget, Sikes says his staff is taking a fresh look at unaccompanied personnel housing, particularly with regard to the life of the reservist. "It's changed markedly since the war on terrorism began," says Sikes. Units are being manned at higher levels, which is placing an added burden on housing. "Reservists are being called up for longer periods of time," says Sikes. "I wouldn't be surprised if you saw a policy come out about this over the course of the year."

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