October 18, 2023

USACE Hands Over the Keys to the New Root Hall

Christopher Fincham
USACE, Baltimore District
The view from the top floor of the U.S. Army War College's new Root Hall at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. (USACE photo by Christopher Fincham)

When I reported to Root Hall at Carlisle Barracks in July 2020, I was drawn to the bronze plaques listing the U.S. Army War College graduates dating back over 100 years and found the names of my former commanders and numerous engineer generals. I was excited to see them again, quietly reminiscing with my memories and their words.

In between the recent grads were those whose legacy of service and sacrifice I recognized by the year they graduated. I imagined their dynamic conversations and the powerful learning that shaped generations of officers who shaped us – the new class. But our experience was destined to be different due to COVID-19 health-safety measures, and we never settled into the coveted seminar rooms in Root Hall. Instead, we adapted by necessity to create an atmosphere for those great debates, even when the classroom was online. Was this the future of learning?

The nearly complete new Root Hall on the U.S. Army War College campus of Carlisle Barracks in July 2023. (USACE photo by Christopher Fincham)

Thankfully, the answer was no.

The future was right down the street, next to Collins Hall, where the site was being prepared for construction of a world class, state of the art, innovative educational facility. The anticipation for the new building was in the air, especially when visiting the “petting zoo” of futuristic furniture, collaborative spaces, and new technological systems for students and faculty to explore. We all stopped to admire the beautiful, scaled model through its glass case, oblivious to the enormous challenges and smart solutions being developed and implemented on site.

The new Root Hall boasts over 201,000 square feet, 28 larger technologically advanced seminar rooms, a variety of collaboration spaces, a modern library, a cafeteria, and common areas. It also provides four large convertible lecture halls, a 600-person auditorium with sky-boxes-style seating. (USACE photo by Christopher Fincham)

The building is supported by a foundation of drilled piers bearing into the underlying crystalline carbonate pinnacled limestone that is susceptible to sinkhole formation. Having extensive experience designing foundations in karst geology, Baltimore District’s geotechnical team executed a robust subsurface investigation, drilling 148 rock cores and additional caissons varying from 36 to 60 inches in diameter. This enabled the structural team to adjust column locations to avoid troublesome subsurface areas, ensuring construction on sound bedrock. Chuck Frey, geotechnical branch chief, deployed a joint team from Baltimore and Savannah Districts, operating five drill rigs six days a week, nine hours a day, at the peak of the investigation to maintain the aggressive design schedule.

Mary Foutz, chief of engineering, emphasized the importance of this remarkable capability and the flexibility it provides our project delivery teams.

The 600-person auditorium with sky-boxes-style seating. (USACE photo by Christopher Fincham)

“I’m incredibly proud of our in-house field exploration unit and our ability to surge to provide essential and timely information that enable critical design decisions,” Foutz said. “Performing such comprehensive investigations during design, significantly reduces the likelihood of discovering differing site conditions during construction that result in costly contract modifications.”

Engineering complexities can be challenging to project execution, but human relationships and team dynamics can be just as impactful. During the project, multiple efforts by different contractors were required to maintain pace. The turbulent industry and economic conditions presented several logistical issues that affected the critical path, however, the transparency and collaborative approach to managing change and risk was critical to finding efficiencies to maximize the schedule. It was not easy and quite stressful, but the relentless focus on safety and commitment to productive and continuous communication kept the momentum going.

A glimpse of some of the 60,000 books that make up part of the school's library. (USACE photo by Christopher Fincham)

The nearly finished building is a spectacular site to see both inside and out, and it means a lot to the team who worked on the project from the start. Col. Bob Halvorson, the USAWC’s project lead stated, “This project has easily been the most rewarding team experience in my 28 years of military service.” The trust and teamwork that developed over time was key to the successful partnering and collaboration.

Barry Treece, Baltimore District’s resident engineer, attributes their success to the teamwork and diligence of his team. Senior Project Engineer Cory Donahue, Project Manager Chuck Stodter, and Construction Representative Dave Potter, consistent engagement and in-person presence were essential to setting the tone for exceptional project delivery.

The new Root Hall boasts over 201,000 square feet, 28 larger technologically advanced seminar rooms, a variety of collaboration spaces, a modern library, a cafeteria, and common areas. (USACE photo by Christopher Fincham)

David Morrow, Baltimore District’s deputy for programs and project management, stated he is very proud of the teamwork demonstrated on this project.

“The entire team, to include external stakeholders, was flexible and adaptable solving numerous challenges that are inevitable on complex design and construction efforts.” said Morrow. “This flexibility allowed the new academic building to support the incoming war college class this summer, as planned from the inception of the project.”

The incoming class of 2024 will begin studies in the new Root Hall boasts over 201,000 square feet, 28 larger technologically advanced seminar rooms, a variety of collaboration spaces, a modern library, a cafeteria, and common areas. It also provides four large convertible lecture halls, a 600-person auditorium with sky-boxes-style seating, and spacious office space for faculty, staff, department chairs, and USAWC leadership.

The new Root Hall features a 600-person auditorium with sky-boxes-style seating. (USACE photo by Christopher Fincham)

The partnership with the USAWC benefited tremendously from the assignment of a permanent project lead, Col. Bob Halvorson, who integrated with the resident office on site. From the onset, the team built mutual trust through consistent communication and collaboration to overcome project challenges. Pursing different priorities while working in the same space required careful sequencing, merging or deconflicting schedules.

“After the split in the contract requiring joint occupancy, the USACE construction team stepped up and held it all together in one cohesive and understandable plan,” said Halvorson. “I could not have asked for a better crew than Cory, Dave, Chuck and Barry. This team works hard and finds solutions to problems that would normally take months to figure out.”

The vision to modernize this historic institution began with a collaborative planning effort that included key partners in the Carlisle Barracks Garrison.

A large U.S Army War College logo on the exterior of the building. (USACE photo by Christopher Fincham)

“I am so proud to see a charrette and many years of tireless planning come to life in a big way at Carlisle!” said Brig. General Kimberly Peeples, who served as the garrison commander at the time. “It was inspiring to see the close relationship between the U.S. Army War College, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Garrison, and the world class facility in the making as a result.”

From the project’s inception, the USACE partnership with the USAWC developed through productive three-tiered governance, chaired at the highest level by the USAWC Commandant, Maj. Gen. David Hill.

"As an engineer, I have always appreciated structures where the form fits their intended function and serves a greater purpose. Walking through the new Root Hall since our new resident class began this year, it is clear to me that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not just create a building but also greatly contributed to an enduring legacy in developing the next generation of strategic leaders. Considering that construction began at the height of COVID in the spring of 2020, I greatly appreciate the expertise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer professionals that led a dynamic government and industry team to an on-time, in-budget completion of this important project.”

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