Closing Down Walter Reed

Small business played an essential role in the decommissioning of complex and sensitive facilities at the century-old Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
By Daniel L. Taylor, M.SAME
The flag was lowered at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for the final time on Aug. 27, 2011. Many facilities on the installation needed to be decontaminated and remediated before they could be transferred for redevelopment. DOD PHOTO BY SEBASTIAN J. SCIOTTI JR.

On May 1, 1909, Walter Reed General Hospital admitted its first patients. The historic institution was founded on principles that would integrate patient care, teaching and research. Capacity grew from 80 beds to 2,500 in a matter of months during the First World War. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were served by the facilities on the Walter Reed Campus, and the nation is indebted to its legacy. The primary structures included the renowned Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), Walter Reed Institute of Research, the Army Physical Disability Agency, and the new Main Hospital, which was dedicated in 1977.

The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) authorized the relocation of the Walter Reed Hospital to the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The new facilities began serving wounded warriors under the new name, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in September 2011.

With the construction of the new complex in Bethesda, a century-old campus was left behind in Washington, D.C. How to deal with the numerous specialized facilities and grounds of the original medical center would need to be addressed—and small businesses would play a vital role in the decommissioning and remediation of much of the site.


The Department of State gained possession of selected areas of the Walter Reed Property in a “Fed-to-Fed” transfer. It was anticipated that 52-acres will be transferred to the State Department, with the remaining federal surplus of 61-acres included in a redevelopment plan prepared by the Washington, D.C. Local Redevelopment Authority. Over the past 15 years AMI Environmental has provided consulting and analytical services at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center complex. For the first 10 years (1998 to 2008), its efforts focused on identifying and quantifying hazardous materials in 1.2-million-ft² of facility space across the campus to prepare for the repair and renewal of facilities.

When the Department of Defense proposed that Walter Reed be replaced with a new medical center, it only made sense that AMI would be engaged to perform a critical role in the decommissioning as a member of the team led by VW International Inc. AMI’s decommissioning efforts at Walter Reed began in October 2010 and concluded two years later, after patients and research had been moved to the new site in Bethesda.

For this complex project, AMI was responsible for providing VWI with chemical and biological hazard assessments, Phase I and II, to investigate potential environmental and human health hazards. This would require mitigation prior to the transfer of Buildings 2, 7 and 54—also known as the Main Medical Center, the Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) building, and AFIP.

These investigations supported the development of environmental decontamination plans, which are necessary to address potential chemical and biological agents within the specified buildings prior to property transfer. The Environmental Site Assessments were conducted in accordance with the National Institute of Health and American National Standard for Laboratory Decommissioning (ANSI/ AIHA Z9.11-2008).


Construction of the Main Medical Center at Building 2 began in 1972. The facility was opened in September 1977, with 5,500 rooms covering approximately 28-acres of floor space. The Main Medical Center provided comprehensive health care for more than 150,000 soldiers, other service members, family members and retirees in the National Capital Area.

  The Main Medical Center (left), and Building 7, which housed the Department of Criminal Investigation, were both extremely sensitive remediation projects, given the high number of BSL-2 and BSL-3 spaces.PHOTOS BY AMI ENVIRONMENTAL.

Building 2 includes patient rooms, laboratories, exam and procedure rooms, and therapy treatment and operating rooms. The facility also had administrative, mechanical and common areas.

AFIP was founded in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum. In June 1955, it moved into what was then the new 360,000-ft² Building 54 on the Walter Reed campus, to carry on its tri-fold mission of diagnostic consultation, education and research in the medical specialty of pathology. AFIP primarily provided second opinion diagnostic consultations on pathologic specimens; as such, laboratory activities included environmental toxicology, infectious diseases, microbiology, molecular and veterinary pathology, genitourinary, gynecology- breast pathology, and soft tissue. Animal research and holding areas, basic science and clinical research laboratories, and chemistry, immunology, and molecular biology laboratories conducted research accordance with AFIP-approved protocols.

Building 7 housed basic science and clinical research, research support, and training in chemistry, immunology and molecular biology for DCI-approved protocols. The approximate size of the building was 53,800-ft², and included 21 Bio-Safety Level 2 (BSL-2) Laboratories. Together, Buildings 2, 7 and 54 accounted for more than 250 BSL-2 and BSL-3 laboratory spaces. Detailed Facility Sampling and Analysis Plans were developed for characterizing the presence of biological, chemical and radiological hazards for all three facilities.


AMI provided project management and technical coordination support to VWI and the U.S. Army Garrison-Walter Reed (USAG-WR) Environmental Office, including facilities support to facility management and departmental staff throughout the 26-month effort.

AMI provided project development scheduling support and occupancy transition coordination during facility occupancy transition changes/extensions. It utilized owner supplied data such as room lists, historical lab activity documents, chemical lists, mechanical and plumbing drawings and various environmental reports. AMI also conducted departmental and laboratory staff interviews, completed checklists and quantity verification and analysis services during room inspections, MEP system inspection, sample collection, laboratory analysis and quantification. The findings were incorporated into a comprehensive Phase I report detailing the hazardous constituents requiring sampling during Phase II.

After a detailed and extensive sampling plan was drafted, identified hazardous constituents then were sampled in hundreds of rooms across nearly 2-million-ft². A comprehensive Phase II report was assembled identifying the hazardous constituents with action level exceedance requiring mitigation during Phase III. AMI also provided a Phase III mitigation cost estimate for each building organized by floor level and room number. Subsequent Phases III and IV included Decontamination and Remediation (Phase III) and Final Status Survey (Phase IV). Phase I and II efforts included recommendations for Phase III and Phase IV. The technical work was performed to address the requirements to meet clearance and closure for the property.

VWI, as Prime Contractor, provided closure planning support to the U.S. Army Medical Command for the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, AFIP and USAG-WR. Its specific work entailed project management and assistance support and coordination. Additionally, VWI developed a plan and approach for management of the closure of all USAG-WR facilities. This included comprehensive facilities coordination; functional and contingency operations support; and a detailed approach for shutting down each building and installation in support of transition operations according to the BRAC process.

The entire task included 49 separate buildings, and totaled more than 5.4-million-ft², with the largest building alone covering nearly 2.6 million-ft². The type of facilities included pathology laboratories, housing, administration offices, hospitals, clinics and an amputee training center. There were energy plants, cooling plants, maintenance garages, physical fitness centers, a chapel, fire station, recreation facilities and warehouses. Indeed, the breadth, and complexity, of the work was enormous.

AMI has had extensive experience in a variety of sensitive healthcare environments including occupied hospitals, clinics and research facilities like Walter Reed. In all, the firm has completed more than 400 task orders at more than 70 installations inside and outside the United States.

It may be a small business, but this is not to its disadvantage. AMI, and so many small businesses like it, are able to leverage their staff’s unique competencies and skills to tackle large projects across the country. AMI is often the single-source environmental solutions partner on designbuild projects involving renovation and/ or demolition activities—proof that being a “small” business only refers to the size of a company, not to what it can accomplish.

Daniel L. Taylor, M.SAME, is President, AMI Environmental Inc.; 402-397-5001, or dantaylor@