Trainers at Fort McCoy are living through a logistical nightmare as they search for space for soldiers while contractors overrun the base.
“We’re literally operating on a situation where we’re managing right down to bed spaces rather than just building spaces,” said Steve Shanks, chief of Fort McCoy’s training division. “We’re pretty much full to the gills right now.”
On any given day during the summer, Fort McCoy hosts an average of 7,000 U.S. Army National Guard soldiers who visit for two-week training sessions. Each division of troops must have a set of barracks, mess halls, offices and vehicle maintenance buildings, preferably in the same area of the 60,000-acre base in Monroe County.
But the U.S. Army has hired a platoon of builders with contracts to renovate Fort McCoy’s World War II-era buildings, forcing trainers and base maintenance staff to carefully coordinate construction and training schedules.
The base keeps contractors on tight renovation schedules and levies a $160 penalty for each day builders go beyond a deadline, said Liane Haun, project manager in the base’s Department of Public Works.
“They don’t set the schedule,” she said. “We set the schedule.”
Julio DeArteaga knows all about sticking to the trainers’ schedules on Fort McCoy from his projects renovating firing ranges at the base. Greenville-based DeArteaga Inc.’s crews were not allowed to work when soldiers were running through the ranges with guns.
“Basically you had to get verified daily, and sometimes twice a day, to make sure there was nothing going on out there,” DeArteaga said.
The company kept track of the days when it was not allowed to work on shooting ranges, and the Army did not count those days toward late fees, DeArteaga said.
“You can plead your case, and they will listen to you,” he said.
Fort McCoy is about three years into a construction boom that, once complete, will take care of decades of deferred maintenance, said Linda Fournier, McCoy’s public affairs officer. The buildings at the base have never been renovated, she said.
But the country’s involvement in recent wars has cast more public attention — and federal money — at providing good housing and training facilities for Army Reserve and National Guard facilities, she said.
“It’s been brought up so much to the forefront,” Fournier said. “And because there hasn’t been much money spent at Fort McCoy, there is a need.”
In the past two years, Alliance Steel Construction Inc., Superior, has renovated 150 barracks buildings — more than half the number of barracks buildings on the base —and there are other contractors renovating offices and maintenance buildings, Haun said.
Using a database, Haun and the maintenance division mark as unusable the buildings that are under construction, and Shanks and his team try to fit the incoming companies of soldiers into the available space.
Some visiting National Guard teams have had to change their training schedules, and others had to live and operate out of buildings that are not on the same block.
But, overall, it’s worked out, Shanks said.
“Actually, we’ve been able to schedule everybody in that is requested,” he said.
Shanks and Haun are not out of the woods yet. It will take another $60 million to $90 million to completely update the base, Fournier said, and the amount of time it will take to complete the work depends on federal budgets.
The Army soon will award contracts for a builder to renovate more maintenance buildings at the base, and bids are due Sept. 3 for a new multiyear contract to renovate barracks buildings.
While it might be an administrative hassle, Shanks said, the renovated buildings, especially the bathrooms, are much nicer for the soldiers.
“None of us who have been here ever thought we would see this much construction,” he said.