National Guard gets upgrades
by Paige Rentz
Sep 03, 2013 | 3648 views |  0 comments | 77 77 recommendations | email to a friend | print
National Guard Readiness Center at McClellan on Goode Road. Two new wings are being added. Photo by Bill Wilson.
National Guard Readiness Center at McClellan on Goode Road. Two new wings are being added. Photo by Bill Wilson.
The Army National Guard’s Fort McClellan Training Center is in the midst of a construction boom, but it may be the last major military construction project Alabama sees anytime soon.

Col. Charles Keith, director of the training center, said the readiness center at McClellan is undergoing a second phase of renovations, with the first completed about two years ago. The project, he said, will double the size of the 90,000-square-foot readiness center and add some maintenance facilities.

The approximately $14 million project funded last year is likely the last major military construction project the Alabama Army National Guard will see this decade, according to Col. Brian Barrontine, who is in charge of construction and facilities management with the Guard.

Barrontine expects the state won’t have another chance to add another major project until about 2020. He said that other nearby posts such as an armory in Oxford need work too.

“The readiness center there needs to be replaced now, but funding cuts are going to ensure we won’t have that funding in the future,” Barrontine said.

Nationwide, he said, construction funding for the National Guard peaked about 2006-07, when more than $900 million was allocated for major military construction projects nationwide. For the current fiscal year, that number fell to about $600 million, and Barrontine expects it to continue to decline in the coming years.

Col. Dennis Butters, public affairs officer with the Alabama Army National Guard, said the department’s entire budget for military construction last year amounted to about $16.4 million. By comparison, its operations and maintenance budget was $126.5 million.

While budget cuts were already in the works, Barrontine said, sequestration has seriously compounded the loss of funding. He said the overall strategy at the Department of Defense has been to take risks in military construction — essentially, hoping older buildings make it through the lean times without major problems.

Keith said new barracks will be constructed and existing barracks — some dating to World War II — will be renovated. Other facility upgrades at the installation will include new paint, wallboard, tile floors and other improvements.

According to a summary of work provided by architect Renae Williams, the barracks project will consist of one pre-engineered metal building. Barrontine said the new barracks will sleep 70 people. Work on existing barracks, he said, will include everything from new roofs to energy conservation upgrades.

Keith said the new facilities will help house more people at the center, which sees between 50,000 and 65,000 trainees each year, both from the National Guard and other organizations such as the Bureau of Prisons, the Civil Air Patrol and the nation’s regular armed services.

State Sen. Gerald Dial, a member of the state Armory Commission, said the state has had trouble matching federal money to fund repair and maintenance of National Guard facilities.

“We in Alabama have just been missing the boat on that,” he said. “We’ve continually cut the guard funding in the state budget.”

He said a measure passed by the Legislature will come before voters at the next election to allow the state to use $50 million of the Alabama Heritage Trust Fund to pay for repair and maintenance at these facilities.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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