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Dormitory project by Far East District improves quality of life at remote Kunsan Air Base PDF Print E-mail
Friday, June 25 2010

Seoul - Kunsan Air Base is an isolated U.S. Air Force installation about 150 miles south of Seoul. It is almost completely surrounded by rice paddies except for a sea wall along the west boundary. Off-post shopping, recreation, and entertainment districts which cater to the military and are quite common outside of U.S. installations worldwide never materialized at this base. The closest major city is not much more than a large village and still a far distance from the base.

This is one of the most secluded of all U.S. installations in Korea and is one of the longest standing remote assignments in the Air Force.

"I've been stationed at Osan. I've been stationed at Humphreys and now I'm stationed down here and you can see the difference," said Master Sgt. Marc Walton of the Kunsan Housing Office, which manages housing services for everybody on the base, from the wing commander down. At this base, unlike other places in U.S. Forces Korea, all personnel are required to live on-post.

"There's not a lot of infrastructure around here to support this base," said Walton.

During the 1990's and also in 2005 the base was under consideration for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. It is now off the BRAC list but for that reason, not a lot of money has been invested in Kunsan during the past decade. Now a major Air Force objective is to make the base an assignment of choice by providing Airmen with a better quality of life.

Part of that objective will become reality later this year with the addition of two modern-standard dormitories for unaccompanied Airmen built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Far East District.

The largest of the two new dormitories will also be the largest housing facility in USFK when it is completed November this year. Many members of FED, Kunsan Resident Office refer to this project as the "hotel", because of its size and amenities. In fact, this 528-bedroom, seven-story dormitory has been compared to the Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul by several engineers involved with the project. However, the Dragon Hill Lodge, an Armed Forces Recreation Center, only offers 394 guest rooms.

Capt. Brad Ledford, Program Flight Commander, 8th Civil Engineer Squadron, worked with FED on the project. He was so impressed with the 528-room dormitory that he chose it as the location for his promotion ceremony to major June 4.

Various leaders at the base gathered in the lounge still under construction on the seventh floor for the ceremony. In his remarks, Ledford commented that the 528-bedroom dormitory is the "Cadillac of the new dormitories". Even though the smaller 160-bedroom dormitory is being built with space in mind for future upgrades such as CCTV, a collective protection system, and other amenities, the 528-room dormitory will be delivered fully loaded upon completion.

Col. Patrick G. Clements, Commander of the 8th Mission Support Group, was present at Ledford's ceremony. He took the opportunity to admire the view of the base and the Yellow Sea from the seventh-floor lounge followed by a tour of the dormitories with Kim U-kon, Project Engineer at Kunsan Resident Office. Afterwards, Clements expressed his excitement about the better housing opportunities becoming available at the base.

"This is going to be a tremendous improvement for our Airmen," said Clements. "I can't wait to get this open."

Not to be left out, the other dormitory under construction co-located at the same campus is a 160-bedroom, five-story facility with modern Air Force standard living modules. It has an estimated completion date for September this year.

Once completed, both dormitories will become a part of a campus joining two other high rise dormitories completed in 2007 and 2008. All together the campus will have improved by 1,360 modern-standard bedrooms for Airmen making it the envy of the base and even USFK.

The two dormitories are a culmination of FED's design and construction quality that has been perfected over the years by incorporating best industry practices.

"A lot of lessons learned over the years of designing and building Air Force dormitories were implemented into the newer projects," said Andy Hirano, who was formerly FED's Air Force Project Manager for the dormitories and is now Air Force Program Manager at USACE, Pacific Ocean Division. "FED ensured that their contractors were set up for success by incorporating continuous process improvements."

Lessons learned and suggestions for improvement from previous dormitory projects were passed on to contractors, who were enabled to increase efficiencies, raise construction quality and avoid pitfalls.

"The Corps of Engineers' designers paid particular attention to detail in the interior and exterior features, such as better sound proofing to keep the jet engine noise out, and granite building wainscots to prevent accumulation of dirt and mud on the building skirt," said Hirano. "These types of features make dormitories pleasant to live in and a welcomed place to return after a hard day's work."

As part of the construction contract awarded to Lotte Construction and Engineering, older dormitories will be demolished as part of the projects for the campus. These older facilities do not meet current standards of four-plus-one style modules in which each airman will have a bedroom and a private bathroom.

"With approximately 100 percent annual turnover in personnel, there's an accelerated wear and tear on old living conditions at Kunsan," said Kim, who is familiar with the products the Air Force is looking for. "Some facilities are over 20 years old and do not provide individuals with privacy essential for proper rest and relaxation."

Air Force enlisted personnel are more than thrilled about the addition of these new dormitories which are expected to advance quality of life at the base by leaps and bounds.

Master Sgt. Walton also serves as Chief of the Capital Asset Management Element at the Kunsan Housing Office and is familiar with the current attitude among the Airmen concerning their housing. As part of his responsibilities, he supervises dormitory managers to facilitate needs of Airmen living in the dormitories.

"When you're talking about the dormitories, the new quad configuration, those Airmen are satisfied, but it's the older dormitories of course that we're having issues with and that's just due to the infrastructure," said Walton. "With the new dormitories coming online, I think a lot of discontent would be eliminated."

According to Walton, approximately 2,000 Airmen at the base are authorized to live in the quad-type housing currently under construction. With the additional 688 bedrooms soon to be available and existing modern standard dorm rooms, only a small percentage of Airmen will be living in older dormitories.

"Some [older dormitories] have been renovated to a certain standard but not all of them," said Walton. "The older constructs go back to the old two-plus-two style where it was two individual rooms that would house two individuals with a shared bathroom. We have the style where it's one-plus-one. You have two individual bedrooms, a kitchenette, and a single bathroom."

Unfortunately, many Airmen currently stationed at the base will not benefit from the new dormitories because they will rotate back to the U.S. before opening day in September for the 160-room dormitory and around late fall for the 528-room dormitory according to Walton.

Until then, housing at the base is at 104 percent capacity which means that some Airmen are sharing bedrooms which is outside of current Air Force standards.

"We got a waiver until we get the new buildings online. We can double-up up to E-5," said Walton. "We haven't had to. E-4 and below are the only ones being doubled-up currently."

The living quarters that are doubled-up are the ones slated to move into the new dormitories once they open.

"All of the Airmen will be in the newer style dormitories and some of the noncommissioned officers, but everyone else will be single occupied," said Walton. "If it is a room where it is a shared bathroom then there will be only one individual in each room."

In addition to comfort and privacy, another important objective in quality of life is safety. These dormitories have various safety features. Each floor has reinforced concrete foundations, floor slabs, and walls as well as fire alarms, sprinklers with detectors, and antiterrorism protection measures.

The 528-room dormitory is equipped with a Collective Protection System which is a state-of-the-art air filtration system designed for comfort and force protection.

The Kunsan Air Base Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Officer has determined that the project does comply with current AT/FP criteria which are mandatory for all Air Force dormitory projects funded in 2004 and later.

The environment also played a major factor in design and construction of the project. It is Air Force policy to use a green building rating system on all projects. FED installed the dormitories with energy efficient systems and used low volatile organic chemical paints, finishes, carpets and wood. FED also required indoor air quality management during construction, used regional materials, reduced potable water consumption, and diverted demolition products from the landfill. As a result of FED's "green" efforts these new dormitories have the opportunity to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifiable.

FED used safe construction practices throughout both projects. Work on the 528-room dormitory began February 15, 2008 and work on the 160-bedroom dormitory began November 3, 2008. Since work began on both projects, zero accidents have been reported and no lost time due to accidents.

The design of the dormitories being built by FED at Kunsan Air base was recognized by the Air Force for its superb quality.

"A series of dormitories at Kunsan Air Base, which were designed by the same FED contractor working on the new high rise wonders, was nominated by Pacific Air Forces for the PACAF Facility Design Awards Program," said Hirano. "Such honor is a credit to the Far East District's ability to efficiently deliver effective design and construction solutions to the Air Force."