Build for BRAC begins

The Baltimore Sun

In anticipation of several thousand new employees, Aberdeen Proving Ground is launching a major construction program to accommodate a highly technical work force.

The Army post, which will grow by more than 8,000 jobs in the next three years as part of the nationwide military base expansion, known as BRAC, is expanding existing structures and building new facilities.

"We are starting to execute BRAC," Col. Jeffrey Weissman, garrison commander, said at a Town Hall meeting at Aberdeen High School that drew nearly 400 people last week. "BRAC is happening today."

The advent of BRAC will be most apparent tomorrow, when Army officials break ground on a $477 million complex that will house many of the communications jobs moving to APG from Fort Monmouth, N.J., a base slated for closure.

The 1.5-million-square-foot facility, built by Whiting-Turner Contractors, should be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2010, a year ahead of the deadline for the completion of BRAC.

The buildings for C4ISR, so called for its mission in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, is not the only major construction project at the 73,000-acre base. This summer will see construction beginning on a large test and evaluation center as well as a comprehensive medical research unit.

OPUS East, a Minnesota-based developer with a subsidiary in Rockville, began construction three months ago on the Government and Technology Enterprise, a 200-acre business and technology park that will include a 60,000-square-foot laboratory and an 80,000-square- foot office building.

"Our bottom line is preparing for BRAC," Weissman said. "APG is postured to support warfighters with the support they deserve."

The GATE project is part of an "enhanced-use program," a nationwide push by the Department of Defense to find new ways of financing maintenance and improvements on military installations during a time when the defense budget is being stretched to support combat operations overseas. Leasing the land helps pay for many of the other base upgrades.

"One of the reasons we won BRAC is because APG has these lands available for lease," said James C. Richardson, Harford's economic development director.

Started years before the Pentagon announced its sweeping plan for realigning bases, the program has helped provide the facilities and services needed at installations slated to expand, such as APG and Fort Meade.

"BRAC does not fix infrastructure," Weissman said. "But the enhanced use program is a way to bring in the revenue to revitalize."

While the base grows, Harford officials are looking at ways to meet the demands of the BRAC influx.

At the town meeting, officials discussed plans for upgrades to roads, schools, and infrastructure and took about 40 questions from the audience. The overwhelming concern was for the cost of all the improvements, followed closely by transportation issues.

"These are taxpayer dollars," said County Executive David R. Craig. "In a sense, a bad economy is an excellent time for government to do these projects. We are getting several competing bids."

Robert Cooper, county director of public works, reminded the audience that most roads leading to the base are state highways that will have to win funding at a time when Maryland is struggling with a budget crisis.

"We are looking for the best bang for our buck in the quickest time frame," Cooper said.

Major intersection improvements at the access gates will likely be the top priority, he said.

In addition to road projects, the county is planning upgrades to its water system, several new schools and curricula tailored to the coming employment opportunities, an expanded sheriff's department and increased public transportation initiatives.

A level of service study, based on BRAC needs, should be completed within the next six weeks, officials said.

Although the Army projects that about 30 percent of the Monmouth work force will move here, Harford will still grow by about 7,500 households, for a total of about 19,000 people within the next four years.

Harford will try to lure the New Jersey residents south.

Richardson is organizing several bus trips from New Jersey to the area. The tours will show prospective residents the county's attractions, its towns, schools and housing options.

"We can't show them every corner, but we will encourage them to come back and look on their own," he said. "We are painting with a broad brush to show how great it is to live here."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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