Time and money. Those are often the two most important considerations in any construction project. How long is it going to take to build something and how much is it going to cost me.
More and more often, those working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Center of Standardization for Nonpermanent Facilities (COS) are pleasantly surprised when they hear the answers.
That’s because the COS, part of USACE’s Middle East District, maintains a library of off the shelf designs known as envelopes that are readily adaptable to almost any purpose and can often be constructed with locally procured materials. Since customers are adapting an existing design rather than paying for something to be designed from scratch, they can move to the construction phase of a project a lot faster without having to pay as much for the design work.
One recent example of this is the construction of an Army Joint Tactical Air Ground Station (JTAGS) building being constructed in Qatar. JTAGS provides 24/7/365 ballistic missile warning and missile defense in support of ground forces deployed around the world. The COS was approached by USACE’s Huntsville Center, the USACE proponent for Strategic Missile Defense Command. They gave the COS their interior requirements and the COS was able to adapt a design to meet their needs.
“We received a project order from SMDC to coordinate the design. One of our project managers at the time had worked in the Middle East and had experience with the COS so he recommended we look to them and utilizing one of their designs as a preferred solution. We were able to leverage their expertise to save both time and money,” said Jennifer Lawrence, the program manager for USACE’s Ballistic Missile Defense - Mandatory Center of Expertise.
One of the other benefits of utilizing the COS is that their designs are often able to be constructed using local materials and military personnel for the labor. The JTAGS building is being built using a combination of troop labor and contractors being overseen by the 310th Construction Management Detachment.
“We’re building 60 percent of the total structure,” said Major Joshua Marcus, the team lead for the 310th. “We’ve got 23 soldiers who have been laying block since the 5th of September and will also be constructing the interior of the building. The remainder of site will be constructed by local contractors. This building is by far the most complex facility we're constructing. As such, it has and will continue to require close coordination between our personnel, contractors, and SMDC.”
Dale Hartmann, the COS’s director, further emphasized the complexity of some of their projects.
“It’s true that all of our facilities can be built using troop labor but in all but the most simple cases they are being overseen by engineers and project managers with significant experience. But that’s also one of the benefits of utilizing the COS. In this case we’re building a fairly complicated structure. But our designs can also be adapted to meet very simple needs such as a basic shelter,” Hartmann said.
Utilizing local materials is another way the COS can save costs and speed up construction.
“In the case of the JTAGS building, we were able to procure the building materials locally. It did require modifying the design slightly to accommodate things like differently shaped concrete blocks but overall you’re still talking about substantial time savings,” said Hartmann. “From our first contact with the Huntsville Center to beginning construction was around six months. A normal design from scratch might take a year or more and this only cost $1.2 million, significantly less than a standard design and build construction contract.”
The COS is also currently building an aircraft hangar, recently received a patent on one of their designs and has adapted their envelopes so they can include protection from direct and indirect fire when required. They also have a state of the art 3D printer to help their partners visualize what the end product will look like.
Hartmann is a passionate advocate for the center.
“When we first started doing this, we spent a lot of time proving the concept. Now more and more we’re able to meet actual needs in an extremely efficient manner,” he said. “The District’s normal customers are now aware of what we can do for them. But we’re a USACE asset and available to any government agency or mission partner that wants to use us. I can see us being useful for things such as a natural disaster, for more stateside construction projects across a wide scope of federal programs.”