19th Engineer Battalion engineering savings

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Repurposing serves dual objectives

Gold Standard Acting Editor
While the word “engineering” can be synonymous with constructing or building, it can also be used to indicate a skillful maneuver to achieve a particular outcome.
Recently, the 19th Engineer Battalion at Fort Knox achieved both definitions with a project that engineered savings while generating a practical result.
A building that was vacant and unused in the warehouse district (near the commissary-Exchange complex, where many old wooden buildings have recently been demolished) was salvaged by the engineers who needed a secure area for building materials. They took the old building apart at one site, transported it to Hurley Motor Park, and reassembled it there.
The project began in the summer months, when 1st Lt. Kelli Foley ran the tear-down phase of the plan. She explained that the project presented some challenges.
“The building was taken apart when the heat kept us to limited hours of operation—early mornings or late afternoon,” she said. “It was so hot, we literally fried an egg on the sidewalk.
“We were very careful about appropriate safety and personal protective equipment,” Foley said, “but even with their work gloves, Soldiers still had to be careful not to sustain burns from handling the hot metal.”
Chief Warrant Officer Two Enrique Rios, the project’s consulting engineer, said the heat forced the team to be especially conscious of weight distribution.
“If we didn’t distribute the weight evenly, some of the metal warped in the heat,” he said.
In addition, the reassembly meant care was required as the building was disassembled.
“We labeled all the pieces just like a puzzle,” he explained. “When you work with a kit, it comes with instructions, but we had no instructions.”
The roof alone had 43 pieces, he said, while the total building was in more than 300 pieces. Some pieces weren’t suitable for reuse; Rios said he ordered some new materials such as 7,500 new screws.
To ensure a solid foundation and apron for heavy construction materials, 318 cubic yards of concrete was poured for the final building’s dimensions of 33 by 125 feet.
First Lt. John Garcia, who provided oversight on the reassembly phase of the building, said the project provided a learning experience for many of the Soldiers who were virtually fresh out of Advanced Individual Training.
“The training helps the post and it helps us, too,” he said.
Sgt. Allen Holm, who ran the electrical piece of this puzzle, said “It’s also a much safer way to learn new skills as opposed to learning in theater where you have to be concerned about security for troops. This way, Soldiers can focus on the training without worrying about guarding the perimeter.”
“The building is similar to those found around the world,” said Maj. Kevin Schrock from the Fort Knox Directorate of Public Works, “so Soldiers are gaining valuable skills working with steel and aluminum here that can be used elsewhere.”
Sgt. Charles Belcher, the project NCO in charge, said, “This project was outside our normal realm because it dealt with steel construction. Although we aren’t professionally trained in steel construction, we were able to learn on the fly to get the job done.”
The project provided expertise with elements of carpentry, masonry, electricity as well as working with steel, added Garcia. It was very practical, since dealing with construction in the heat is commonplace in many places of Southwest Asia.
Rios added that there are significant differences between lumber and steel construction, so the project allowed Soldiers to chalk up one more experience.
“Steel columns, for instance, must fit bolts and footers exactly, whereas there is a little more leeway with wood beams,” he said.
Hyex machines were needed to move and place the extremely heavy steel columns, providing another experiential tool.
“In every challenge we faced throughout the process, from the first dig to the 10,000 square feet of concrete to the last piece of tin, our accomplishments were evidence that we are proficient in our trained tasks and that we can use them to improve our own post,” said Spc. Tyson Klemm, who worked on multiple stages of the project. “Each member of the team utilized their expertise. Even though this was a new endeavor for higher command, lower enlisted members could use past experience in weather challenges and blueprint shortfalls to get the job done.”
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Maj. Marc Bailey, operations officer at the battalion. “We repurposed a building that was destined for demolition and now we have a great place to store Army class IV construction materials.”
All told, if the work had been contracted out, the estimate was in the neighborhood of $160,000. Schrock said by providing this training opportunity to the battalion, the engineers saved the installation almost $90,000.
“That’s important,” he said. “As we are heading into another period of budget constraints, we have got to take advantage of opportunities to train Soldiers while saving taxpayer
dollars on installation upkeep. It’s the smart way to best use what we have.”