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Construction Continues at Closing Military Bases

October 9, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A new $5.1 million chapel at San Diego’s Naval Training Center opened in time to hold graduation for the facility’s last recruit class. But, with the base closing next year, it is not needed now for religious services.

The chapel is one of many buildings that went up at closing military centers. Even after the government made the tough decisions to close down dozens of bases, the Pentagon is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on construction at those very bases.

Projects range from new barracks and renovated gymnasiums to new sewage plants, fire stations and training facilities.

Critics contend many of the expenditures are just wasteful.

``They defeat the whole purpose of closing bases, which is to save money,″ said Sean Paige, spokesman for the group Citizens Against Government Waste.

The Pentagon says that even while it officially terms some bases closed, portions are still used by the service that originally occupied it, by another branch of the military or by another government agency.

The Pentagon’s director of installations, Doug Hansen, said many projects were contracted before bases went on the closure list; the work was being done on land being transferred to other agencies; or the Pentagon simply did not want to leave buildings half-finished.

``We had to look at each project on a case by case basis and do an economic analysis,″ Hansen said. ``In many cases the cost of cancellation would have been more than the cost to finish.″

The Defense Department could not provide an exact figure on construction spending for largely defunct bases. But a Pentagon study last year of some of the projects _ scheduled to cost $471 million _ showed nearly $263 million worth of them were continued.

Comparing three years of Pentagon construction budget records with base closure lists, The Associated Press reviewed a sample of more than $70 million in construction on closing or officially closed bases.

The Pentagon’s base-closure guidelines require the services to determine whether construction projects at facilities set to close should go forward.

The Pentagon reported last December that some $974 million in Navy construction was canceled or suspended. Hundreds of millions of Army and Air Force projects also were canceled, officials said.

Experts say military contracts contain termination clauses that would make the government responsible for builders’ materials, labor and profit margin. But they questioned whether the costs would exceed the project’s price tag.

``That sounds a little strange,″ said Paul Caggiano at the Coalition for Government Procurement, which studies Pentagon contracting.

The AP’s review found dozens of projects that made it through the screening process.

_In San Diego, the 33,000-square-foot chapel was four months from completion when the base went on the closure list. ``They’re going to have to pay for it anyway, so why not complete the structure?″ said Lt. Jeff Weimann, a Navy spokesman in San Diego.

The facility was used for the base’s last recruit graduation, but not for religious services _ the base’s World War II-era chapel still works fine for that. But Weimann said the new building is used occasionally for meetings, charity events and other functions.

_The Air Force is spending $7.1 million to renovate a gym, barracks and fueling system at a Homestead, Fla., base damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The base officially closed in 1994, but the facilities will be used by reserve units, officials said.

_ In Orlando, Fla., the Navy just spent more than $13 million to build a dining hall and personnel center on a base set to close in two years. Sailors have never set foot in the mess hall; it was turned over to the U.S. Customs Service. The city is expected to get the other building.

_Since Fort Sheridan, situated north of Chicago, officially closed in 1993, large chucks of the base’s lakefront property have been turned over to private developers or to a forest preserve. A training center, for local reservists, is nearly all that is left of the Army’s operation. But a plan is being discussed to transfer that part of the property to a private developer as well.

Nonetheless, the Army plans to begin bidding for a $3.3 million classroom expansion soon, and probably break ground in the spring, puzzling at least one local congressman, Rep. John Porter, R-Ill.

``If they built a very expensive expansion and then moved, their attitude is, that’s not their problem,″ said Porter’s spokesman, David Kohn.

Doug Benson, chief of facility plans for the Army Reserve Command, said the transfer is still up in the air, but he acknowledged, ``It wouldn’t look too good to build and then on grand opening day move.″

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