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Delaware's National Guard gets new headquarters

Apr. 22, 2014 - 01:14PM   |  
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NEW CASTLE, DEL. — The building’s rugged exterior stonework stands atop sculpted grounds cut into the north side of the New Castle Airport. Daylight streams into a tall lobby and three glassed rotundas that anchor the 109,000-square-foot building. There’s a sense of openness throughout.

The irregularly cut stones evoke a bygone age. Unseen are the technological advances and eco-friendly infrastructure that will give the state National Guard a much-needed 21st-century edge when it begins moving in next month.

The two-story Armed Forces Reserve Center-New Castle — the future headquarters of the state Guard and operational support center for the local Navy Reserve — is a modern throwback, a building that is light years beyond the Guard’s longtime home, a former elementary school shared with a senior center in Milltown.

“I think this is just fitting to have something that’s a bold statement,” said Col. Chris Prosser, the state Guard’s construction and facilities program manager. “It’s what it should be. It’s what the men and women in uniform deserve.”

The building’s facade is meant to echo the state Guard’s roots — which it traces to 1655, when a citizen militia of Swedish settlers took up arms against an invading Dutch force.

“Back in the 1600s, we would have built this site with field stones,” Prosser said during a recent tour of the site. “These,” he said patting one of the earthen-colored, hand-chipped rocks, “are field stones.”

The stones, mined in Langhorne, Pa., shaped on site and laid in a staggered pattern that softens what could have been a more symmetrical, institutional appearance, are blended with contrasting dark brown metal panels backed with R-21 insulation.

The new building is easily one of the most modern buildings in the state. The heating/cooling system uses 168 wells for a geothermal loop to the water source heat pump system, reducing long-term costs. Interior steel is covered with fire-retardant foam that also serves to insulate.

Overhead, roof-mounted solar panels will contribute 15 percent of electrical needs, with room for more upon the galvanized steel girders that support them. There’s a vegetated roof area; the rest of the roof is covered with a heat-reducing white rubber compound that rests atop 14 inches of insulation. Out front, the walkways are wired to melt ice and snow.

Above the stones and top-floor windows, aluminum sunshade foils affixed to the rim of the roof deflect sunlight from the high-efficiency-glass windows. A grassy berm that partially blocks the view from the road serves not only as an exterior blast wall but also hides three 15,000-gallon tanks into which roof rainwater flows to keep the lawn watered. The site features bio-retention swales and retention ponds to collect rainwater that flows off the airport.

“Every ounce of rainwater gets collected underground on this property, and diverted or sent out into the underground storm sewage collection,” said Kevin Brosius, who has spent the past two years working on the project in quality control and safety for the Vigil-Harkins contracting team.

“This area used to flood out bad,” Prosser said. “With all the storms we’ve had, the system works wonderfully.”

The building has its own state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, gym and medical suite. There is a storage area for gear, and a concrete, steel-doored vault where weapons can be secured. Outside the rear of the building stands a huge diesel generator. Brosius said it’s part of a fully automated emergency system.

“So if the building loses power,” he said, “the automatic transfer switch kicks in, engages the generator, and it powers up the building within 10 seconds.” It can run the building for 24 hours straight, he said.

All told, it is what Brosius called a “60-year building.” That is, its structural features will be sustainable for that length of time, save for the roof, which he said might last half that long. “We have torn down buildings at McGuire (Air Force Base, N.J.) that are 30 years old, to give you an idea,” he said.

The building is completely wired for modern telecommunications. It’ll house the Guard’s Joint Operations Center, from which officials can communicate overseas with combat commanders and coordinate disaster relief operations with state and federal agencies.

Today’s high-tech military demands this sort of capability, Prosser said.

“It’s not wanting — it’s needing,” he said. “We need modern, built-to-criteria buildings.” He pointed to Scannell Armory in Delaware City, built in the 1970s. “And you look at what that building is and does, compared to the criteria for what a new one is and does,” he said, “and there is absolutely no comparison. The number of … wall outlets, with telecommunications jacks. Everything’s computerized now.”

The new headquarters, he said, “is the modern, functional building we need for a modern Army.”

The project is coming in at a total of about $42 million, including design work, construction, furniture and other items. Prosser said he can’t yet say precisely how much, citing end-of-project contract modifications and change orders.

Conceptualized about 15 years ago, officials broke ground on the project in October 2011. The work was supposed to be done last summer, but completion was been delayed by bouts of inclement and wintry weather and unexpected site problems, such as old sewers and concrete pads workers discovered buried beneath the surface.

The finish line, finally, is near. For Prosser, it’s a proud moment.

“It’s the culmination of my time in the Guard,” said Prosser, who is retiring in June.

The Guard and Navy Reserve will start moving into their new home in May, according to Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, a state Guard spokesman.

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