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Military reserve center under construction in Tyler

Posted:
From Tyler Morning Telegraph Reports:
 
By CHAD THOMAS
Business Editor

Thousands of military personnel are expected to train in Tyler each year while injecting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy when a massive reservist base here is completed next summer.

Contracting and construction of the Tyler Armed Forces Reserve Center is 40 percent complete, and by June the city could see more than 300 armed forces reservists begin flocking to the center three weekends every month.
 
The 123,000-square-foot base on Texas Highway 31, across from the former Goodyear plant, will serve as one of about 1,500 mixed reservists centers nationwide, bringing together nonactive-duty personnel from various military branches.

The Tyler center is the only one of its kind between the greater Dallas and Shreveport, La., areas where reservists will receive equipment training and classroom instruction.

"Reservists train typically one weekend a month and have a sort of summer camp -- a two-week training once a year -- that they conduct," said Ken Beyer, public affairs specialist with the Louisville district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "That's unlike a military installation where you have active duty soldiers who are there 24-7 year round."

Tyler's reserve center has been in the works for almost two years following the September 2008 passage of an expansive $10.8 billion security and disaster assistance bill that included the appropriation of $29 million for the East Texas military reservist station.

Almost one quarter of the bill's appropriated dollars will be used for Texas military facilities, including the closure or consolidation of several reserve centers along with the construction of new facilities, similar to Tyler's reserve center, in Abilene, Amarillo, Lewisville, Round Rock and San Marcos.

The reserve center here will sit on 15 acres and feature a central facility containing classrooms, conference rooms, an auditorium, a family room and office space. A storage building and a vehicle maintenance facility will be offset from the main center.

While some military equipment, weapons and vehicles will be on site, all arms training with M-9 and M-16 assault rifles will be simulated using laser lighting and no live rounds will be used, officials said.

No artist renderings of the Tyler reserve center have been released to the public, but each base is designed and landscaped to reflect its geographic region of the country. For that reason, the facility won't necessarily appear to be military in nature at first glance, said Steve Farkus, the Tyler's center's project manager through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Think about a community college where you've got classrooms and maintenance facilities," he said, with Beyer adding, "Think about the landscaped yards, and that's pretty much what these centers are. They're not your Constantine wire and concrete structures of old."

As part of a federal mandate through the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, Tyler's reserve center must be "soldier ready" by Sept. 15, 2011. At its current pace, the base is scheduled to come in ahead of time and under budget.

Army Corps of Engineers officials have pegged June 30 as the target occupant-ready date with a final design-build price tag of about $24.5 million.

Officials attributed the cost savings to a sagging economy and declining construction contracts, which spurred builders and contractors to return lower-than-normal bids for the Tyler base.

"They really wanted to get the work," Farkus said, "and the bids matched the market in a very hungry industry."

Tyler will serve as the training ground for about 90 percent of the reservists within a 70- to 100-mile radius, Beyer said, as well as a small number of personnel from across the country. About 20 permanent fulltime personnel will be assigned to the center.

Annually, the reservists are expected to have an economic impact in excess of $150,000 on the area.

"They stay in hotels in the area, they eat in the restaurants," Beyer said. "The (reserve) facilities do not have a true dining area, and most meals that are served on site are catered in."

Incoming reservists also traditionally make a dent in the local economy through fuel sales and barbershop and dry cleaning services. Additionally, the bases frequently hire local companies for janitorial cleaning services, grounds keeping and landscaping, and building maintenance and repair.

Cable and computer networking systems also are often contracted out to local providers, officials said.

Because it is an Armed Forces Reserve Center, not strictly Army Reserves, the Tyler base will see an influx of federal personnel from the Army and Marine Corps as well as the Texas National Guard, a state-run organization overseen by the Texas governor.

The combination of National Guard and armed forces reserves is one unique aspect of the Tyler center, as is its environmentally friendly design specifications which will qualify it as at least a Silver-rated LEED certified building.

"Most of the reserve centers are LEED Silver minimum certification," Farkus said. "That's the army's goal. It's pretty aggressive and it's pretty good. I'm proud of that."
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