Fort Lewis readies for expansion

Mammoth projects include new barracks, troop units and facilities

The News TribuneNovember 12, 2007 

Planners at Fort Lewis have grown accustomed to hefty federal outlays the past several years for new barracks, training centers and other facilities.

But the $378 million in the new military construction bill is a lot, even by Fort Lewis standards.

"It's a quantum leap," said Larry McVay, the military construction program manager and a project engineer in the post's directorate of public works. "If you take all the construction from the 1990s, our 2008 program is probably going to be more than we got all that decade."

The growth is hardly exclusive to Fort Lewis. The final version of the military construction bill includes $672 million for the Army, Navy and Air Force bases in Washington state. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said that's the largest amount he can remember during his more than 30 years in the House.

At Fort Lewis, the country's fourth-largest Army post, the big number is the result of several converging story lines, officials said:

The post is steadily making its way through a decade-long barracks construction and renovation program to bring housing for single soldiers up to Army standards. And new barracks are expensive — on average, $30 million to $50 million.

Some of the money is to build facilities for new units that have been stationed there in the past few years — a third Stryker brigade, two helicopter battalions and an artillery and rocket brigade, among them.

Fort Lewis would appear a likely destination for some additional units created over the next five years as the Army grows by some 25,000 troops.

Speculation abounds that the post might get another infantry brigade, as well as the 2nd Infantry Division headquarters when it's pulled out of Korea in 2012.

"Growth, and replacement of aging infrastructure: There are a lot of factors that have all come to bear over the last six or seven years," said Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek.

Post officials are rewriting a master plan that was drafted in the late 1990s. It assumed the post would have 18,000-20,000 soldiers, with growth perhaps to 25,000.

The new master plan, expected to be completed by next summer, takes into account the more than 30,500 soldiers expected to be stationed here by 2011, according to the Army Stationing and Installation Plan.

The post's soldier population already stands at 26,343 and by the end of the 2008 fiscal year, it will be more than 27,600, according to the stationing plan.

"Lewis is one of the very few premier installations in the Army now, one of the installations that they are preparing to base their future needs for the defense of the nation," said Gary Brackett, who tracks military affairs for the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

The latest appropriation follows several years of sustained big-ticket construction spending at Fort Lewis.

Congress and the taxpayers delivered more than $375 million for construction at Fort Lewis between 2000 and 2004, after Army leaders named it the site for creation of new wheeled, medium-weight combat formations that would become known as the Stryker brigades.

That included money for new digital training centers, one of the Army's largest urban combat training facilities and a new yard for assembling equipment for deployment.

The post got an additional $56 million in 2005 for a barracks and a new chapel, $110 million in 2006 for two more barracks projects, and $183 million in 2007 for two more barracks and a complex for the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Those figures represent projected costs ­ requests that the Army sends to the Department of Defense, and that the administration in turn asks for from Congress, said Steve Glover, chief of the post's master planning division.

Military construction money approved for Fort Lewis actually gets spent in the year or so after it is appropriated by Congress, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awards contracts for the work.

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