The Walsh Group/Ross Group – Fort Polk VOLAR Barracks Renovations

Walsh Ross GroupWalsh and Ross Group are building unique features into the barracks at Fort Polk, La.

By Alan Dorich

After enduring the rigors of training drills, U.S. Army soldiers need the proper facilities to relax and rest – at least until the next morning. The Walsh Group and Ross Group are helping Fort Polk provide those facilities with its Volunteer Army (VOLAR) Barracks renovation project in west-central Louisiana.

According to Walsh Project Manager Tony Choate, the eight barracks were originally constructed in the late 1970s. But when the U.S. government decided to improve them, it called for a complete renovation of the structures.

“We gutted the entire buildings and rebuilt them back out,” he says, noting that the project was divided into three phases. “Phase one, which spanned approximately a year, included the design of all eight buildings and renovation of the first building.” Walsh Ross Group info box version 2

After that was completed, the project team started phase two, which lasted 14 months and consisted of the renovation of three more buildings. “We’re now wrapping up phase three, which is the renovation of four barracks,” he says.

Fine Features

The buildings will feature 676 living quarters when Walsh and Ross Group are 100 percent finished. “We made provisions within these rooms to make them adaptable [to two soldiers each],” Choate says, noting that the buildings will stand three stories and cover 370,000 square feet.

“I’m proud of the finishes we put in these buildings,” he says. These include solid-surface countertops and cultured marble tub surrounds. “Our design team came up with some pretty stylish features.”

The buildings also were designed to be energy efficient. “While we were required to maintain a minimum of LEED Silver on this project, we have been able to achieve LEED Gold on our phase one and phase two buildings,” he says. “That is definitely something that we are proud of.”

Some of the green features included a continuous air barrier in each building, along with a new solar water heating system that will provide 30 percent of the domestic hot water in each building. “The other thing that we did is install photovoltaic systems in the common spaces,” he adds.

Existing Challenges

Walsh and Ross Group coped with problems presented by existing conditions on the project site, Choate says. On phase three, the project team discovered that the buildings were originally constructed with flat roofs and precast concrete parapets that weighed several thousand pounds.

“We found that as we began to demolish the exterior brick, the parapets were starting to tilt away from the structure, which obviously made us very concerned in how we were going to be able to secure them structurally,” he recalls. “We had to demolish the pitched roofs and reconstruct new ones, but we had to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and our designer to come up with a solution to keep the project moving along.”

Together, the project team prevailed. “Several of these buildings had upwards of 100 of these sections on the roof,” he recalls. “We had to go up and reinforce them with steel.”

The project team also completed the decontamination of several crawlspaces during phase three. “We found that the sanitary piping had at one point failed and over time deposited [hazardous material] in these crawlspaces,” Choate recalls.

“A big portion of the new mechanical, electrical [and] plumbing systems were installed in these crawlspaces,” he continues, noting that it brought in an abatement contractor with the right expertise to remove the material. “They came in and took care of it.”

The project team also encountered a challenge when it came to the floors on the phase three buildings. While two utilized precast floor panels, “The other two buildings used a combination of conventional reinforced steel and post-tension cable,” he recalls.

When Walsh and Ross Group demolished and renovated the buildings, they discovered that the cables had been cut in a previous renovation. “We did a ground penetrating radar survey of these areas, and had our structural designer check to make sure the integrity of these slabs were going to be sufficient,” Choate continues.

However, the project team ultimately had to remove many portions of finished ceilings, install a carbon fiber system to reinforce the slabs, and then re-install the ceilings. The process “made it a challenge to deliver these buildings when the end-user expects them,” he notes.

Staying Ahead

Based in Chicago, Walsh is a fourth-generation family owned business that has practiced general building construction since 1898. Choate, who has been with Walsh for eight years, notes that this is the company’s first project with Ross Group, which is based in Tulsa, Okla.

The firm started operations in 1979 and is an ENR 400 Top Contractor. “Ross had some previous experience here [at Fort Polk],” he says. “We’ve been working together on this project for going on four years.”

He adds that Walsh will continue to keep busy as it serves multiple markets, which also include retail, hospitality and healthcare. “We’re becoming very diverse in what we do and what we pursue,” he says. “That’s how we’re able to stay [ahead].”

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