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Posted 1/28/2016

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By Jennifer Aldridge
USACE Europe District

WIESBADEN, Germany — European Infrastructure Consolidation, a process announced by the Department of Defense last January to save the U.S. government approximately $500 million annually, is transforming and consolidating installations throughout Europe, including U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, by 2022.

Benelux officials have the unique mission of consolidating their footprint in two countries — Belgium and the Netherlands. The garrison, with the assistance of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District and the Dutch Ministry of Defense, will execute a $122 million transformation program. Upon completion, Daumerie Caserne, and the Brussels and Schinnen Emma Mine leased sites, will close and all tenants will relocate to Chievres Air Base, Sterrebeek Annex and Joint Force Command Brunssum, respectively.

Shortly after the DOD announcement, Benelux leadership set up a dedicated office to manage EIC work, said John Phelan, the Benelux Transformation Office director.

“As the command started getting into the planning details, the realization of the complexity — three sites over two countries — was too much for an additional duty as assigned. It required an additional office,” he said.

Europe District is supporting the garrison with planning, design and construction oversight of 10 transformation projects in Belgium. Work will include renovating buildings used by the directorates of Emergency Services and Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; Value Added Tax Office, veterinary clinic and post office; and building new facilities for Department of Defense Education Activity-Europe, Benelux Directorate of Public Works and FMWR’s Auto Skills Center. A utilities study was also completed to assist with the consolidation effort.

In the next decade, the garrison community will benefit from a new school and sports fields for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, infrastructure upgrades and relocation of garrison headquarters, facilitating the termination of two existing leases, said Émile Pitre, a Europe District Installation Support Branch project manager.

“This will save the garrison $6 million to $9 million in operations and maintenance costs annually,” he said.

The initiative not only saves money, it enables better service to the community, Phelan said.

“We’re moving the services closer to the customer, becoming a one-stop shop and creating a community center rather than decentralized services,” he said.

Due to the quantity and complexity of projects, many district branches and sections are involved in the transformation.

The Planning Section worked with Benelux partners to create a future development plan, utilities study and request for proposal packages for design-build projects; the Engineering Branch assists by designing Job Order Contract projects and reviewing designs provided by contractors; the Project Management Branch will execute the Brussels school and athletic fields project for DODEA-Europe; and the Installation Support Branch designs and executes JOC and Multiple Award Task Order Contract projects. The Benelux Resident Office, located at Chievres Air Base, oversees the contractors’ daily work on-site.

Amy Holmes, the Benelux Transformation Plans and Operations chief, recognizes the capabilities and technical expertise that Europe District brings to the team.

“The garrison benefits from USACE’s experience working with host-nation contractors and delivering quality products in complex multinational environments,” she said.

Although the concept of transformation is not new to the DOD or Installation Management Command-Europe, each location has its own set of objectives and unique circumstances, Phelan said.

“The biggest challenge we have here is working with the Schinnen transformation piece. Based on national agreements and since we live in Belgium, we have more of a habitual relationship with the Corps and the Corps has experience working with the Belgians as well,” he said. “On the other hand, the Netherlands has different national agreements that do not include the Corps, so we don’t have that resident expertise there, making it more of a challenge for us.”

While USACE has experience in Belgium — the district recently completed American elementary, middle and high schools at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe for DODEA-Europe in Mons — the transformation work is complex due to the number of projects taking place simultaneously, partners involved in the decision-making process and languages spoken.

Stakeholders such as IMCOM-Europe, the Benelux DPW and transformation offices, and tenant organizations all provide guidance to USACE, Pitre said.

“Identifying the primary decision-maker when there are multiple financial sponsors, or 23 tenant units on one project, is tricky,” he said.

Also, there are many different languages spoken during transformation meetings. Everyone speaks English, but sidebars are spoken in other languages, Pitre said.

“DPW local nationals and the contractors’ designers primarily speak French, the prime contractor speaks German and tenant organization representatives speak English,” he said.

But the challenges of executing the consolidation are minor in comparison to the anticipated benefits, officials said.

According to the Benelux Real Property Master Plan created in March, garrison leadership will be able to successfully support missions and focus on the long-term use and sustainability of the Chievres community as an enduring presence within Europe.

This transformation postures Benelux to better support U.S. and greater NATO missions as well, Phelan said.

“The garrison is centrally located and is gaining more capacity to take on emerging missions, like European Activity Sets,” he said.

Many of the USACE-managed renovation projects will modify the designs and configurations of available, but underutilized facilities to meet unit requirements, Pitre said.

“U.S. forces at Benelux will be better prepared for future missions,” he said.

The site returns in Belgium and the Netherlands will allow more resources to be focused on other U.S. European Command mission requirements, according to DOD officials.

“In the end, this transformation of our infrastructure will help maximize our military capabilities in Europe and help strengthen our important European partnerships, so that we can best support our NATO allies and partners in the region,” said former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.