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Fort Meade options examined


Combining three Department of Defense media information schools at Fort Meade could cost taxpayers $36.1 million for a new, 232,000-square-foot building, renovations to old buildings and temporary classroom space for 950 students and teachers.

This is the most expensive option for the consolidation and the one preferred by the Department of Defense.

The information is contained in an environmental assessment the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released Tuesday. The report, which includes eight options for construction of the school and renovations of existing buildings, concludes that the school would have no detrimental environmental impact on the post.

The less expensive choices include scaling down the size of the proposed new building and housing classrooms and laboratories renovated barracks, some dating back to World War II.

The cheapest alternative, the report says, would cost $17 million. It includes a new 34,000-square-foot building and renovations to 250,000 square feet of existing space.

But the preferred plan puts classrooms, laboratories and maintenance facilities within one block of student housing.

Jack Butler, the project manager on the report, said that was the main reason for supporting the more expensive plan.

"It is best to have all the troops together," he said, noting that the cost analyses of some of the less expensive options do not include busing students around the post.

He also said that the preferred alternative has no impact on historic buildings, some of which were built in the 1930s and which it would cost a considerable amount of money to move.

"An effort was made to locate the school in an area of the post that was convenient to recreation and barracks housing, but was removed from family housing to minimize disruptions from marching and exercising units," the report says.

The three schools relocating are the Defense Information School, now at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana; the Defense Visual Information School, now at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado; and the Defense Photography School, now at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida.

The schools in Indiana and Colorado are being closed by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

George Webb, a planning manager for the American Forces Information Service, which is based in Fairfax, Va., and has oversight of the schools, said the consolidation will save taxpayers $5.2 million a year. "This is a good news story as far as the money is concerned," he said.

The school is to be the hub of an educational cluster at Fort Meade, which is changing from a combat training post to an administrative one after losing more than 8,000 acres during base realignment.

In addition to the school, the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to build a $40 million lab on the post, and the Library of Congress wants to construct a 12,000-square-foot warehouse to store 2 million books at a cost of $3.1 million.

Army officials said in the report that Fort Meade was chosen over several installations because it had a "cost effective combination of existing barracks and dining hall facilities" and land available for new construction.

The preferred site for the school is at the corner of Mapes Road and Zimborski Avenue. Students would be housed in four renovated barracks along 6th Armored Cavalry Road.

Mr. Webb said that the combined space the three schools now have is larger than what they will be moving into at Fort Meade.

That would be impossible to accomplish under other alternatives because the labs would be in different buildings scattered around Fort Meade, he said.

Students, the majority of whom would be from the enlisted ranks, will attend classes from four weeks to 26 weeks in public affairs, print, photo, broadcast journalism, still and motion photography, electronic imagery and management.

Several laboratories will be built, including a newspaper production room, 10 radio studios, four television studios, an editing control room and darkrooms.

The average daily student population will be an estimated 570; there will be 375 instructors and other workers.

The Defense Visual Information School is the first scheduled to ,, arrive at Fort Meade next year with 135 staff members and 275 students. The Defense Information School will come next in 1995 with 180 staff members and 215 students. In 1997, the Defense Photography School is scheduled to arrive with 60 staff members and 80 students.

The school building will have classrooms, laboratories and training equipment. Eight barracks would have to be torn down to make room for the new building. Barracks for student housing and a dining hall already exist.

The construction costs would be spread over four years, starting in 1994.

The report says the Department of Defense considered leasing space off post to house the school, but decided students needed to be close to their living accommodations, dining halls and classrooms.

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