Blue skies ahead: Fort Carson benefits from revived funding, a sign of its stature

CAB-Control-Tower---pan-01While President Barack Obama was signing a $1.1 trillion appropriations act into law last week, Colorado Springs’ reassured Army outpost was looking at a hefty check it is waiting to cash.

Of the $487 billion that the legislation set aside for the Department of Defense’s fiscal year 2014 budget, $9.8 billion will fund military construction projects. And of that, Fort Carson will see $242 million to continue major projects on the Mountain Post.

“Just the fact that those funds have been appropriated and that it is happening is great news,” said Tom Binnings, Summit Economics partner and local market observer. “Spending a quarter of a billion dollars is pretty substantial — nearly 1 percent of [local gross domestic product] right off the bat … if it were to happen all in one year.”

In fact, Fort Carson received more construction funding than any other military installation in the country — accounting for nearly a quarter of the Army’s construction budget for the next fiscal term. With that boost in capital, Carson can start Phase Two of an expansive construction program it began in 2012.

“It also solidifies that in the next few years Fort Carson will remain a post that has a substantial role in the Army,” Binnings said. “I think that it is all very positive.”

Fort Carson’s three-phase project will create facilities and infrastructure needed to accommodate a new presence in Colorado Springs: the 4th Infantry Division’s 13th Combat Aviation Brigade, the latest addition to the division that began its move from Texas’ Fort Hood in 2009.

Brigade’s impact

Fort Carson Media Relations Chief Dani Johnson said Carson’s Combat Aviation Brigade “brought in approximately 2,700 soldiers into [the] 4th Infantry Division,” 300 of whom are on one-year deployment to Afghanistan.

Work on the $212 million first phase of construction — which includes a headquarters building and a new air traffic control tower — is ongoing and expected to wrap up this spring, according to Johnson. After that, the new appropriations will pay for the start of the second phase.

That phase includes seven more MILCON (military construction) U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects that are scheduled to break ground at Fort Carson’s Butts Army Airfield later this year:

• a $66 million aircraft maintenance hangar for the assault battalion, which will be centrally located on the parking apron and will accommodate 385 personnel, 30 helicopters and a maintenance company;

• a $73 million aircraft maintenance hangar for the general support aviation battalion, which will be located at the south end of the parking apron and will handle 583 personnel and 35 helicopters;

• a $34 million central energy plant, which was not initially scheduled for construction but was later recommended for a FY14 start date;

• a $12 million fire station, which was moved from the FY15 budget to a start of construction in FY14;

• a $33 million consolidated battalion headquarters building, which will house all five of the Combat Aviation Brigade’s battalions and will include classrooms;

• a $12 million runway, one of a series of system-wide infrastructure projects that also includes utilities work and other transportation infrastructure;

• and a $12.2 million flight simulator facility that is required to support an addition of digital flight simulators.

When all of the structures are standing, the grounds of the Combat Aviation Brigade’s headquarters will include five hangars ($330 million), new barracks ($113 million) and infrastructure upgrades ($50 million), as well as a control tower and fire station.

It is definitely a shot in the arm and a positive thing for Colorado Springs. It certainly shows that it is a done deal and it will be finalized with the infrastructure and facilities for that to occur.”

– Tom Binnings, Summit Economics

What it means

The Mountain Post plans to award these projects to contractors late in the second quarter or early in the third quarter of fiscal year 2014, according to Johnson.

“It is definitely a shot in the arm and a positive thing for Colorado Springs. It certainly shows that it is a done deal and it will be finalized with the infrastructure and facilities for that to occur,” Binnings said about the headquarters.

“The interesting question is whether local Colorado Springs contractors can be competitive in getting the contracts. There aren’t that many contractors that will be able to compete locally — probably more nationally — but the labor force will be largely local.”

After the third phase of construction set to begin in FY 2015, Butts Army Airfield is also set to house an aircraft parts supply warehouse, a physical fitness center and a “shoppette,” according to MILCON plans. Plans also include potential sites for solar arrays, which would accompany Fort Carson’s “Net Zero” energy-use ambitions.

Fort Carson was selected to become an Army test site for complete energy efficiency (power, waste, water) with the task of reaching that goal by 2020. The Combat Aviation Brigade program and its new facilities will help Carson spearhead that effort under the direction and funding of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers documents.

This reproduction shows the extent of construction plans adjacent to Butts Army Airfield for the Combat Aviation Brigade.

This reproduction shows the extent of construction plans adjacent to Butts Army Airfield for the Combat Aviation Brigade.

Not a total solution

While recent federal legislation and budget agreements have temporarily eased the pinch of sequestration, it seems as if little can be done to completely protect the local military community from the possibility of future reductions.

“The bipartisan budget deal and the omnibus are steps in the right direction, but they still leave many issues unaddressed,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado said this week in an email to the Business Journal. “They alleviated some of the pressure on both defense and non-defense spending, but they did not end the damaging sequestration cuts over the long term.”

The Defense Appropriations bill did include a $128.8 billion boost in military personnel pay, providing a 1 percent wage increase for the country’s 1.4 million active troops and 833,000 reserves. What the bill did not include was a loophole in the Base Realignment and Closure process that is expected to begin in 2015.

BRAC, as it is commonly known, potentially could cut Fort Carson’s personnel by 1,500 by 2017 — although the Army predicts an 8-percent gain. The plan is to reduce U.S. troops by 80,000, thus reducing the deficit in an effort toward balancing the country’s checkbook. But restructuring, and moving some units to new military bases, could alleviate Fort Carson’s reductions.

Although construction does not alter this potential forecast and the budget deal does little to remedy sequestration’s damage, Binnings did say it is a vote of confidence for Fort Carson and Colorado Springs.

“We know that as an economy, we’re heavily reliant on the military,” Binnings said. “We are looking at entering a period of federal austerity … and the reasonable assumption is that we will continue to see the slow erosion of our military sector.

“Anything that shows we have significance at the current time does give one reason to feel positive that as a community we will be able to continue to play the role that we have played historically.”