By Ed Brock
Army Spc. Steven Hoyle can stand guard at the gates of Army Garrison Fort Gillem with a little more comfort now that he has a roof over his head.
One of the many construction projects at the fort in Forest Park has been the recent installation of canopies over the gates at Jonesboro Road and Anvil Block Road. The canopies cost $249,066, money well spent as far as Hoyle is concerned.
"Before the canopy we had no protection from the elements," Hoyle said. "Now we have protection from severe weather and it will protect us from the heat of the sun and the UV rays. It's quite a difference going from no cover to a cover."
The canopies are a comparatively small project for the base that has been undergoing a major facelift over the last two years. Last year a new Army Reserve Center and a headquarters building for the 52nd Ordnance Group opened for business on the base.
Some time this year, perhaps by late summer, the new Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory should be ready, Gillem spokesman Ron Morton said. The crime lab provides everything from ballistics tests to fingerprint work to computer forensics.
Morton said the $3.9 million building is about 77 percent complete but is running a little behind schedule.
"(The crime lab) had a new mission added onto them last year and it had added some extra room," Morton said.
That new mission, which includes a DNA database, has turned a single-phase project into a three-phase one. The staff of the lab, which provides service for all branches of the military, has also increased by about 39 percent over the 90 to 100 people who worked in the old lab.
When the new building is ready it will also have a new director, Larry Chelko, who said he is very excited about the new facility and looking forward to moving in.
"The new ... facility is the product of the efforts of many people over an extended period of time. We have been working on its design and construction for over 10 years," Chelko said. "The Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory is a world class, full service crime lab with a world wide mission. It is staffed with outstanding personnel, is equipped with state of the art equipment and is well funded to accomplish its mission. However, the missing piece has always been a proper facility to support its operation. That is no longer a problem because the new facility at Fort Gillem will be one of the best in the nation."
Also on the drawing board for the fort is an Army 2nd Recruiting Brigade Operations Building that is expected to cost $5.8 million. There's no schedule for the opening of the building as the Army is still preparing to take bids on the work.
A $4.4 million Modified Record Firing Range is set to open in 2009 and a maintenance building and storage building are expected to be added to the Reserve Center this year.
All this new work is a "neutral to slightly positive" sign that Fort Gillem and its parent facility Fort McPherson in Atlanta may escape inclusion on the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) List due to be released by the Department of Defense this spring, said Fred Bryant, spokesman for the "Save Forts McPherson/Gillem" Foundation, Inc.
Military construction projects are often planned out five to six years in advance and often are completed even when the military knows the facility will be closed.
"There are fairly significant penalties at a federal level if the military reneges on a contract, or if the contractor reneges," Bryant said.
However, the construction is good in the sense that it increases the quality of life for personnel on the base. The uniqueness and importance of the crime lab is also a good sign.
"That's something that doesn't go on (for the military) anywhere else in the world," Bryant said.