A $1-billion capital improvement program to expand and modernize Fort Bragg and its sister installation, Pope Air Force Base, both in North Carolina, will help produce national standards for the design of all Army buildings. The Savannah District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is running the ambitious program.

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Soldiers walking in front of the recently completed barracks buildings at Fort Bragg. Photo by Jonas Jordan, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District

The bases, which house the 82nd Airborne Division and the Special Operations Forces, are being renovated partly because the facilities are outdated and partly because of the Army's reorganization.

"The average age of the barracks was 62 years old," says Ken Gray, Fort Bragg area engineer for the Corps. "We've been working to replace the barracks for the last five years." The current target date for complete replacement, at a cost of $1 billion, is 2009, he says.

After the program to renovate the barracks was announced, the Army made the decision to redeploy troops out of foreign installations and to restructure its brigades into brigade combat teams. Under the restructuring program, the Corps needed to add new command facilities to Fort Bragg to get the base up to specifications.

The Corps program includes projects ranging from the $10 million design-build renovation of Kennedy Hall, home to the special operations unit, to the $175 million 4th Brigade Combat Team Complex.

BL Harbert International, Birmingham, Ala., utilized design-build for the recently completed $42-million barracks complex for the 16th military police. ACC Construction, Augusta, Ga., is working on phases one and two of the 3rd Brigade Barracks Complex under an $84-million contract.

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2nd Brigade Barracks under construction at Fort Bragg.

At Pope AFB, the Savannah district has recently managed $20 million in airfield repairs along with a new $13.5 million combat control school for the soldiers who secure forward airfields and prep them for arrival of airborne reinforcements.

Though the barracks program is scheduled to wrap up in 2009, Base Realignment and Closure projects will start up in the same year at Fort Bragg, which is expected to inherit between 6,000 and 20,000 troops under the latest BRAC plan. As a result, the Corps will be spending $300 million on a new facility to house FORCOM, the Army's largest command, when it relocates from Fort McPherson, Ga.

While the bulk of the BRAC work will not kick off until 2009, some initial projects will soon be under way. The Corps will be letting a $52 million vehicle maintenance facility project next year as the first BRAC project to hit the ground at Fort Bragg.

The program that the Savannah district has been running at Fort Bragg and Pope AFB has been more than a standard capital improvement program. It has been on the forefront of the Corps transition towards more extensive use of design-build contracting.

"Five years ago, almost all of the projects were designed by the corps then bid and built," Gray says. "This coming year, almost all of our projects will be design-build."

The change in delivery has not escaped the notice of the contractors.

"Over the last three or four years, the corps has phased in design-build," says Chuck Haag, project manager for Pittsburgh-based Sauer Inc., an active contractor at the bases. "There were only a few design-build jobs being awarded in the past, and now it seems like one third of the jobs being awarded are design-build. They are constantly tweaking and honing their delivery systems."

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Out with the old buildings at Fort Bragg.

The main driver behind this change has been the need for faster delivery. "In the old cycle, we would start the design two years before the funding came," Gray says. The Corps now is delivering many of its projects in little over two years from award to commission.

At one point the district office was tasked with delivering a new brigade combat team area in 10 months. Delivering the $114 million project in so little time was challenging, Gray says.

The project encompassed 63 24-man barracks, 30 company operations facilities, six battalion headquarters and one brigade headquarters. "The only way we could deliver it was to use modular construction," Gray adds. "The barracks were essentially prefabricated offsite and hauled to the location."

The prefabricated barracks are not to be confused with temporary structures. "The corps is looking for permanent modular solutions, where you don't realize that it's a modular design," says Ben Patrick, vice president with BL Harbert International. In addition to speeding the construction process, modular construction provides relief in the face of widespread labor shortages.

The Corps is expanding its delivery repertoire beyond modular designs and design-build contracts. A major tweak to the delivery system is the new RFP (request for proposals) formats. Says Gray: "We are being less proscriptive on contract requirements and allowing the contractors to be more innovative. We are trying to get a better product by including more contractor innovation in the process."

The most prominent change is allowing contractors to build based on commercial codes rather than Corps specifications. "The Corps used to preclude the use of wood framing; now they allow it. It's a fairly dramatic change," Patrick says.

The Corps also has overhauled its approach to timetables, which normally involve a six-month turnaround from award to approved final design. To speed the process, the Corps is allowing the contractors to fast-track projects by beginning demolition and site prep work after three months of design work.

As the Corps becomes more comfortable with new delivery methods, it is becoming more aggressive in applying them.

The district's experimentation with different delivery methods will provide the basis for the achievement of a broader corps initiative: the standardization of design for all Army buildings. The Savannah District Office is in charge of creating the standard template for company operations facilities that will be applied nationwide. "We are hoping that it will bring prices down on construction," Gray says.

Despite all of the creative contracting and design methods, labor remains tight. According to Gray, contractors will start to compete for local labor when the total amount of work awarded hits $250 million. Gray attributes the problem partly to the bases' proximity to the Raleigh-Durham area, which is booming, and the inability to get Hispanic workers onto the base. A crackdown by federal officials against illegal immigrants at the jobsites using fake IDs has further tightened the labor market.

The contractors are trying to find ways to address the issue, but only have been able to find stopgap solutions. Sauer has affiliated itself with unions wherever possible and is bringing subcontractors on earlier in the procurement process, but the problem remains largely unresolved, says Haag. "I'm not sure how it is going to be addressed in the long run," he says.