ERDC Unveils Strategic Vision and Cutting-Edge Projects for Infrastructure Enhancement and Sustainability

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is at the forefront of enhancing operations, infrastructure and installation maintenance, driven by a strategic vision that balances innovation with practicality. This vision is realized through meticulous planning, collaboration with stakeholders and a commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency.

Currently four notable military construction (MILCON) projects have been approved for construction in 2024: the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory’s Permafrost Tunnel Expansion in Fox, Alaska, the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory’s Projection Penetration Research Facility and Military Pavements Research Facility and the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory’s Watercraft and Ship Simulator for Multi-domain Operations Facility all located in Vicksburg, Mississippi. These projects focus on cutting-edge technologies, advancing the Department of Defense Critical Technology Areas and total $43 million.

During a recent conversation with Michael Harding, ERDC master planner, he shared the strategic vision for enhancing operations, infrastructure and maintenance within the organization’s installations. According to Harding, premier facilities are one of the five-P’s of ERDC’s Director, Dr. David Pittman, which aims to integrate the growth and development of ERDC’s programs, people and properties.

“Our facility requirements are formed by the future programs and needs of our customers,” said Harding. “While much of our research is specialized, we aim to modernize our facilities to have the flexibility to address emerging requirements.”

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Jack Wheeldon, the chief of ERDC’s Installation Support Division, explained the strategic approach that the organization takes in project prioritization, funding mechanisms and initiatives aimed at reducing environmental impact while promoting resilience and efficiency.

“Every year, the seven laboratories provide ERDC leadership with a list of requirements that aim to enhance research capacity or capability,” Wheeldon said. “From equipment upgrades to new facility construction, the demands are diverse. This comprehensive list serves as a foundation for future endeavors.”

Researchers from ERDC along with the Association of Maryland Pilots run virtual simulation tests on a bypass channel around the Francis Scott Key Bridge accident site using the Ship/Tow Simulator located at ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory in Vicksburg, Miss., April 12, 2024. SUBMITTED PHOTO

ERDC engages with other government agencies and contractors during the planning and execution of projects.

“Each of our laboratories has partnerships with universities, private industries and other government/military agencies,” said Harding. “These relationships help inform the requirement on where we can physically do the research by leveraging the shared space. When it comes to modernizing or constructing new facilities, ERDC prioritizes the requirements developed by the individual laboratories. If shared or external funding is needed, the requirements are presented to the installation support team.”

Reflecting on past successes and challenges, Wheeldon highlighted the evolution of MILCON efforts. “Since 2014, we’ve witnessed a resurgence in projects, albeit with occasional setbacks,” he said. “Despite hurdles and fluctuating funding streams, recent endeavors have seen fruition, marking significant milestones in infrastructure development.”

“There is no secret that ERDC has mature facilities averaging over 40 years of age,” Harding said. “Laboratory leadership, with the support of ERDC staff, search out opportunities to fund renovations and new facilities. Depending on the utilization, ERDC requests support through the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and Congress to leverage authorities and appropriations lined out in Title 10 U.S.C. These authorities include MILCON, unspecified minor military construction (UMMC), and what we refer to as FLEX-4.”

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“The FLEX-4 program allows ERDC to reinvest a portion of its research revenue into basic and applied research, workforce development, technology transfer and lab revitalization,” Wheeldon added. “It is the lab revitalization pillar which ERDC exercises to expand, update and construct new laboratory capability and capacity. From conceptual design to project implementation, ERDC engages with stakeholders to ensure alignment with research and development goals and objectives.”

ERDC ensures that new construction and renovations are resilient and adaptable. “ERDC, as with all government construction, applies the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) designs to ensure that our facilities meet minimum safety and engineering requirements,” said Harding. “However, cutting-edge research, innovative equipment and revolutionary processes do not always fall neatly into the approved design criteria. In these situations, deliberate decisions are made to ensure the success of the program while meeting UFC goals.”

While promoting sustainability and energy efficiency is a priority for ERDC, it must navigate regulatory challenges and operational constraints unique to its role as a government research facility. Despite these challenges, ERDC strives to incorporate green construction principles and explore innovative solutions for reducing environmental impact. Initiatives such as the use of renewable energy sources and energy-efficient building designs are explored within the confines of regulatory compliance and operational requirements.

Also, ERDC prioritizes renovation projects in various ways. Simply, renovation is defined as the act of renewing or restoring something, and this can be accomplished in various ways. Most routine maintenance is done at the laboratory level and often with the support of ERDC’s Department of Public Works (DPW). An emerging life-health safety (LHS) issue will get higher priority to ensure the safety of the workforce, equipment and facilities. However, when modernizing or repurposing facilities, there are a couple of methods commonly used. Individual laboratory leadership may do this internally using their overhead funds if the renovation meets specific criteria. For efforts that require shared or external funding, those projects are organized by the installation support team, presented to the Board of Deputy Directors and approved by the ERDC Board of Directors. Often prioritization considers impacts to current and future ERDC, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Defense programs.

ERDC’s strategic vision for enhancing operations, infrastructure and installation maintenance underscores its commitment to world-class laboratories & research, innovation, collaboration and sustainability. Through careful planning, effective project prioritization and collaboration with stakeholders, ERDC continues to drive advancements in MILCON and infrastructure development while maintaining a focus on environmental stewardship and operational efficiency.

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