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Navy jumpstarts San Diego economy with $2.8 billion

19 July 2009 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The phones are ringing off the hook at Captain Steve Wirsching’s office. Building contractors are calling and e-mailing him about the bonanza of construction projects slated for Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and Coronado Navy Base.

“We get dozens of queries a week,” said the commander overseeing construction activities for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in the Southwest region. “The interest has been intense.”

In a ravished economy, the Naval command’s $4.1 billion investment for the Southwest region – including $2.8 billion for more than 55 projects in San Diego County – over the next two years is like an oasis in the desert. Many want to drink its waters.

Bouyed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, these projects mean more revenue for parched contractors in San Diego County, where the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest is awarding contracts.

The projects also mean a wellspring of new jobs. Camp Pendleton alone currently has 10,000 construction workers. NAVFAC Southwest is also expanding by 600 new civilian workers this year in San Diego, with 300 more to hire by Oct. 1.

“The objective, as we were told, was to help be part of putting people back to work and jumpstarting the economy,” said Capt. Wirsching, commanding officer of NAVFAC Southwest. “To the extent that we can do that, we’re happy to help.”

Overview of projects

In San Diego County, NAVFAC Southwest’s projects span a wide range, including:

• A new hospital at Camp Pendleton, estimated cost $563 million

• Photovoltaic stations at Camp Pendleton and the Coronado navy base, estimated cost $14.5 million

• New barracks at Camp Pendleton, estimated cost $1.4 billion.

The Recovery Act has enhanced projects that were already planned. Navy construction activity for the Southwest region was already budgeted at $1.8 billion for this fiscal year ending Sept. 31. But the Recovery Act pushed the total investment to $2.2 billion, said Capt. Wirsching.

Recovery Act funds also speeded up existing projects. The new Camp Pendleton hospital, for example, was originally slated to start in 2011, but got bumped up by a year “The Recovery Act just accelerated that and made it a reality,” Capt. Wirsching said.

The stimulus funds add to the growing reservoir of projects in the region. NAVFEC Southwest’s investment of $276 million in fiscal 2006 will grow to $2.2 billion in 2009 and $3.1 billion in 2010. “To grow 10-fold is significant,” over a four-year period, said Capt. Wirsching.

While the Navy has always been a strong contributor to the local economy, this growth means even more dollars for contractors and jobs for workers during the recession, which has devastated the construction industry. (For a list of upcoming U.S. military construction projects, click here.)

New hospital

The crown jewel of the projects is the new hospital at Camp Pendleton which is being built entirely with money allotted from the Recovery Act. The new 500,000-square-foot facility will feature state-of-the-art equipment and cater to military families and wounded soldiers.

The $563 million hospital is one of the two largest Department of Defense projects funded by the Recovery Act. The DOD received about $7.4 billion total, less than one percent of the $787 billion stimulus package signed by President Obama in February.

NAVFAC Southwest has wasted no time awarding projects for the hospital. San Francisco-based URS Corporation won the bid in April to do an environmental report. The Navy will also award an architect-engineering contract in September and a construction contract a little over a year later – in October 2010. With building completion targeted for November 2013, the hospital is expected to be fully operational in 2014.

The hospital project alone will offer numerous subcontracting opportunities, said Capt. Wirsching. While a project of this size will likely attract bidders across the country, San Diego companies will have plenty to quench their thirst.

“A lot of San Diego firms do an awful lot of work with us,” said Capt. Wirsching. In addition to companies with LEED silver certification, the command favors companies with “good understanding of the military, the San Diego market, the suppliers and contractors in the area, as well as long term relationship with the Navy,” he said.

No wonder architect, engineering and contracting companies are calling to find out more.

Alternative energy projects

Solar charging stations at Camp Pendleton and the Coronado Navy base are part of the Recovery Act’s emphasis on energy conservation and alternative energy. For the Southwest region, the Naval command has 46 energy projects worth $164 million. Most of the projects are in San Diego, while others are in Yuma, China Lake and elsewhere.

In San Diego, three photovoltaic projects will be awarded for projects in Camp Pendleton and Naval Base Coronado. Those contracts, to be given in September and December, total about $14.5 million.

It’s a “great opportunity to become more energy efficient, as well as generate alternative energy,” said Capt. Wirsching. “Long term, that’s going to help us reduce our costs and really make us a leader in energy responsible use and generation.”

Building upgrades

The Navy also has projects to improve barracks at Camp Pendleton and the Coronado Navy base, for about $1.4 billion. In Camp Pendleton alone, NAVFEC Southwest will be awarding 15 barracks contracts worth $522 million. Other buildings include headquarters, administration and training facilities.

Other facilities are intended to improve the quality of life for the military and their families. New construction includes child development centers and bachelor housing. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to improve the living and working conditions for our sailors, marines and families,” said Capt. Wirsching.

Quick spending

NAVFEC Southwest is moving quickly to spend the Recovery Act money. To jumpstart the economy, the Obama administration has given tight deadlines for spending allocations, or they will no longer available.

Capt. Wirsching said they have a “very aggressive timeframe” to move projects quickly, as another 62 construction projects will need to be awarded by fiscal year ending Sept 30.

“We’re awarding projects every day,” he said.

In addition, “we’re pressing forward with the design reviews, so we can get them done and get people out there on the jobs working,” Capt. Wirsching said.

New jobs

The projects are bringing a wealth of jobs, both blue and white collar, to San Diego.

Professional jobs include: engineers, architects, biologists, designers. Blue-collar jobs comprise the likes of: crane operators, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters and laborers. (To apply for Navy jobs, click here)

NAVFAC Southwest itself last year hired 544 new civilian workers and is hiring 600 more this fiscal year. Contractors and subcontractors winning bids will also generate tens of thousands of new jobs.

The total activity is positive for San Diego County, said Capt. Wirsching.”It’s a great opportunity to improve the lives our sailors and Marines and help the local economy.”

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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