Under the gun to stay on schedule with more than $4 billion in Base Realiagnment and Closure Act projects at Fort Belvoir, Va., post program managers have developed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ first 4D, Google Earth-based animated construction model for an entire military installation.

Using Google Earth as a backdrop, the model links a mountain of facility and site data with nearly 140 project schedules to enable more effective construction coordination on or around the 8,600-acre garrison.

Belvoir New Vision Planners, a joint venture of PBS&J, Tampa, Fla., and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Chicago, developed the model with technology company Onuma Systems, Pasadena, Calif.

“Initially, we had a vision to create a program management dashboard to show us project status,” says Regan McDonald, senior program manager at PBS&J. He started developing the model in 2008. “It has evolved into a much more effective tool with more uses than we imagined.”

Although initially skeptical, top officials at Fort Belvoir now embrace the model as a primary planning and communication tool. Lt. Col. Eric Harter, deputy director of the USACE Belvoir Integration Office, says he was concerned it was “just another gee-whiz BIM thing,” at first. “I thought it sounded gimmicky,” Harter says. “However, we’ve had a number of forums where the Army staff, the garrison staff and DOD [Dept. of Defense] were able, in real time, to conduct planning that would have otherwise taken weeks.”

Col. Mark Moffatt, deputy garrison commander for Fort Belvoir’s base realignment and closure (BRAC) program, says the tool’s simplicity resonates far up the chain of command. “Things came to fruition for us last November when we had to brief the vice chief of staff of the Army and his subordinates,” he says. “We used [the program] to show how BRAC would move forward and get everything accomplished. The expression on some of the senior leaders’ faces as the modeling showed the construction and the overlap and how we could mitigate issues � it was very powerful.”

Seeing It All

The 4D model allows project managers, Fort Belvoir staff and senior leaders to view active and completed projects, so-called limits of disturbance, road closures, laydown and parking areas, off-installation construction, utilities and various other concerns in time and space.

The digital tool gives users fly-through views of the installation with 3D models of projects created in Google SketchUp. They can access project and site data by clicking on facilities or sites, and they can monitor construction progress.

To follow the schedule of any project, users slide an icon across an on-screen timeline for an animation of progress. Sites are color-coded. Yellow indicates areas under construction. Green shows where work is complete. Time layers can be detailed to show sub schedules within multiphase projects.

A primary benefit has been to head off clashes between projects. In one case, it was discovered construction of a child development center and a sewer main installation were planned for the same place at the same time. Early detection allowed teams to adjust schedules and force-main alignment, confirm construction methods and address site-access issues—all before release of requests for proposal.


Uses quickly evolved. BNVP’s initial mission for the Corps when it got the contract in 2006 was to assist with planning, conceptual design, engineering and program integration for Fort Belvoir’s BRAC program. The program includes 20 major projects with nearly 6.2 million sq ft of space and 7 million sq ft of parking structures with a September 2011 deadline.

To begin, the team gathered up any data it could get about projects around the fort. The result was a jumble of files and formats. “If they had a design, we’d take the BIM files or 2D AutoCAD files or GIS files,” McDonald, says. “If all they had was an approved location, we’d take that. If they had schedule data—even if it was just a start and stop date—we’d take that.”

To make the data work together, BNVP and Onuma built the model in Google Earth,...