By Erica Bender 2017-09-05 12:31:13
The mission of the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) is to provide military forces with the resources needed to deter war and to protect national security. More than 420 military installations located in the United States and its territories are used to train and deploy troops, maintain weapons systems and care for the wounded. These facilities also support active military service members and their families by providing housing, health care, childcare and on-base education. But what about resources dedicated to sustaining the 22 million veterans who have fulfilled their patriotic duties to our country? Are there enough, and are they easily accessible to all veterans? The answer to both of these questions is no. A Desperate Need The Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the primary entities that oversees veteran-centric programs and support services. Currently, the agency operates around 1,200 outpatient sites, 300 veteran centers and 150 hospitals scattered across the nation. Despite the agency’s proactive efforts in recent years, many veterans still do not have ready access to facilities and support services. In 2015, only about 9 million veterans were enrolled in VA health care programs. In 2016, nearly 40,000 veterans were reported as homeless by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. Roughly two-thirds of these American heroes were dwelling in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs or safe havens, while a third were found in unsheltered locations—under bridges, in cars or in abandoned buildings. The highest percentages of unsheltered veterans were in the states of Hawaii, Mississippi, California, Oregon and Nevada. These challenges and others can only be overcome through additional funding and support staff to aid veterans, as well as facility upgrades and new construction projects. To increase veterans’ timely access to benefits and services, earlier this year, President Trump proposed the allocation of $186.5 billion to the VA in the FY 2018 budget. Approximately $862 million is earmarked for the activation of new and enhanced health care facilities, and another $855 million for major and minor construction projects. A Project of Hope for Veterans Efforts by private entities are also helping to grow veteran support services. One such example is the Greensburg Veterans Sunrise Center project, where a former prison site in Pennsylvania will soon be transformed into a one-stop veteran’s rehabilitation center intended to provide clinical treatment for veterans and to temporarily house approximately 1,500 veterans. Located on 96 acres in Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County, an existing three-story, 300,000-sqft facility will be adaptively repurposed into a rehabilitation campus featuring an onsite clinic, a multiuse field and courtyard, and a guidance and support area that offers services such as family support, counseling and childcare. A new vocational and life-skills training building will house workforce and business development programs. The mixed-use development will also offer women and children’s housing, single-living housing and additional multifamily housing. Structural insulated panels (SIPs), which consist of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings, will be used to construct the housing. SIPs are prefabricated to meet different building design needs and are easy to assemble, resulting in quicker construction. These highly durable materials are also energy efficient, which minimizes long-term operational and maintenance costs. Managing Director David Goldsmith is spearheading this privately funded venture, which is still in planning and design stages. He is collaborating with the VA to ensure that the new campus is equipped to meet the specialized needs of veterans. “The most significant design challenge will be the radical transformation of the existing architecture from a bare concrete structure clad with steel bars and draped with razor concertina wire into an attractive, welcoming space for veterans and their families,” says Robert Wright, a senior associate at Stantec, which is providing architecture, engineering and program management services. “Access, security, mobility, interior aesthetics and military sensibilities are all key considerations that will be addressed throughout the design process.” The site’s geotechnical conditions present a significant engineering hurdle. “Portions of the campus sit on top of abandoned coal mines and pyritic rock that is prone to expand under certain conditions,” Wright says. “We’re conducting a preliminary foundational assessment as part of our proactive investigations plan. Once the initial core borings are complete, we will factor the geotechnical obstacles into the site master plan and ultimately into the final design.” The engineering and design team is also working to determine which components of the former prison are appropriate for adaptive reuse. “We’re evaluating the entire campus from an energy perspective,” says Wright, “with a goal to maximize the use of the state-of-the-art energy plant that the developer currently operates on campus.” Goldsmith notes that about 75% of the existing buildings will be gutted and the building shells reused. Construction is slated to commence in early 2018 with a phased completion schedule. The project will be fast-tracked, with multiple prime contractors working to concurrently install site utilities, roadways and buildings.
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