Military Readies Building Offensive, Billions to be Spent on Multiple Projects

[Source: www.sdbj.com, May 25, 2009]

Just as a weaver twists multiple strands of nylon together to make a rope, the U.S. government has twisted several military construction initiatives together to form something with a good deal of economic pull.

February’s economic stimulus package contains 80 military construction projects — many of them local — worth $1 billion. “We have a very aggressive timetable to get this stuff awarded,” said Capt. Steve Wirsching.

As commanding officer of the Navy’s building arm, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest, Wirsching sits at the center of this construction boom.

The Navy captain said this month that he hopes to put 62 projects in the hands of builders by Sept. 30 — the end of the federal fiscal year.

The stimulus, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is but one strand of the rope. It joins an initiative to increase the Marine Corps by 22,000 Marines. The new Marines will be based primarily in the Southwest, at Camp Pendleton and at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. The push, known in military circles as “Grow the Force,” has a sizable building component.

Separately, there is a movement called barracks recapitalization, the Marine Corps commandant’s effort to upgrade the condition of Marine barracks.

All funnel down into Wirsching’s office on Pacific Highway.

The command is on track to award $1.7 billion worth of work in the 2009 fiscal year. In 2010, Wirsching said his command may award $3.1 billion worth of contracts — a far cry from the $350 million to $500 million in contracts it would award in a slower year.

Wirsching added the caveat that Congress must approve the spending in the 2010 budget.

One Base, $4 Billion

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton alone expects $4 billion worth of construction during the next four to five years, said Col. Osamah A. Jammal, chief of staff for the base, adding the same caveat about the need for congressional approval.

The base features 125,000 acres and a spectacular swath of undeveloped real estate between Oceanside and San Clemente. It’s the workplace for some 60,000 military and civilian personnel. For many, it’s also home.

The barracks recapitalization projects and the Grow the Force projects both began in 2007 and are slated to run through 2011.

The current fiscal year, which heads into the homestretch this summer, is the biggest year for the barracks recapitalization, which encompasses 42 projects worth $1.4 billion. Fiscal 2010 is the top year for Grow the Force, which has 50 construction projects valued at $1 billion.
Not all projects are in San Diego County. But that’s no trouble for San Diego contractors, who are used to going where the Navy and Marines want to move dirt.

Local contractors have taken a “huge interest” in the barracks projects, Wirsching said.

The centerpiece project for Camp Pendleton, and for local Recovery and Reinvestment Act spending, is a 500,000-square-foot, $563 million hospital for the base. As of early May, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command was settling on an acquisition strategy. The command expects to award the project by September 2010 and finish construction by 2013.

Another Recovery Act project, scheduled to be awarded by September, is a design-build deal for an $86 million barracks project at Naval Base Coronado.
Two recurring themes in Recovery Act are child care facilities and solar power.

By September, the federal government expects to award contracts for a $15.4 million child development center at Camp Pendleton, an $11.8 million project at Naval Base Point Loma and a $2.3 million project at Naval Base Coronado.

California Navy and Marine Corps bases are in line to get photovoltaic energy systems. The Recovery Act spells out 13 deals collectively worth $49.5 million. Most will be awarded by September.

Not all Recovery Act projects are major. There are repair projects for as little as $67,000.

Hands On Deck

With more projects to process, the Navy Facilities Engineering Command is in hiring mode. From October to early May, it had hired 250 people; it was set to hire 250 to 350 more by the end of September. Positions include contract specialists, architects and engineers. Blue-collar positions are up for grabs, too.

“The jobs are fairly competitive,” paying in the range of $40,000 to $100,000 per year, said Donald Chick, the command’s business manager.

The “aggressive” hiring push will continue into 2010, Chick said.