Sgt. Major of the Army Michael Grinston saw the original condition of the old Belvoir barracks Tuesday. While touring the new barracks construction, he said he was pleased with the design innovations being made on the buildings to provide greater convenience and safety to enlisted Soldiers, when the new barracks open for use this summer.
“There’s about 450 Soldiers in these barracks, but it was designed with just 70 square feet per Soldier, and that’s not enough – the current guideline is 90 square feet,” said Garrison Command Sgt. Major Gregory Kleinholz. “The renovation worked to give them more living space without losing beds. Four of the barracks will come back in use in July and August, and the other two will open in April 2022.”
“Other installations are facing the same challenges we are. So, we took the time to think it through and come up with this design and something that could be spread across the portfolio,” said Brian Smith, Garrison chief of housing. “We understand other installations have launched renovation projects, but the feedback we’ve gotten is that this blows them away, and for good reason.”
Smith pointed out that some of the design considerations had to mitigate some second- and third-order issues.
“This installation lost its dining facility. Soldiers now typically have a kitchenette with a mini microwave – that’s it,” Smith said. “Everyone’s on separate rats; they’re profiling because they’re eating fast food instead of healthy meals. There’s always a call for better kitchen facilities.” Smith showed how the new units gained living space by incorporating the entry hallway, and making that part of a shared space, with four smaller private bedrooms in each corner. There will be a full kitchen, with full-size stove, dish washer and full-size refrigerator. Smith said this saves money because it’s replacing four micro-refrigerators.
Smith said this is safer for everyone.
“With this new design, instead of separate rooms, we’ve got the benefit of their battle buddies able to check if someone’s isolated in the room for too long,” said Smith. “This is the product of years of looking at the problem and working to make it better, and we had the opportunity to do that, and we knocked it out of the park.”
Kleinholz said the bedrooms for each Soldier are nicely appointed.
“In each Soldier’s room, there’s a large walk-in closet for personal items, and another closet for professional gear. Each room has a spot for a computer workstation, because everybody’s got school work,” Kleinholz said, adding that the bedroom windows finally offer black-out shades.
Grinston said it’s amazing what gets overlooked sometimes.
“We’ve been an Army for 226 years, almost, and we just now caught up with the technology that every German has had in their own house. I’m a big fan of this,” said Grinston.
Kleinholz said there are already plans to help Soldiers make the most of their kitchens.
“We have a B.O.S.S. building that’s under renovation and it’s going to open this summer. We’re teaming up with the USO and the B.O.S.S. program, to offer cooking classes for the Soldiers. When they come up here, they’ll have ideas of what to cook,” Kleinhholz said.
Smith said the renovations are making the most of lean budgets, as renovations add time to buildings long past their time.
“These barracks are past their facility life-span of 50 years, and we’re keeping them going, so we’re saving money by doing this renovation, and getting the Army on solid ground and providing a great retention tool,” said Smith, adding that unsatisfactory housing can certainly cause a Soldier to re-think re-enlistment.
“I’ve got to be able to articulate our facilities investment plan, and stay on the plan. We’ve got to stick to it,” said Grinston. “My goal is to make sure we don’t have a housing crisis in the barracks, and that’s what I lead with. If we don’t stay on this plan, it’ll happen.”