Readiness by Design
Having overcome several distinct engineering challenges while being completed on schedule and within budget, the new 106,200-ft² Regional Readiness Center in Cumming, Ga., is a definitive example of how innovative engineering can create a dramatic difference in a facility update and in military readiness.
By Shawn DeKold, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, M.SAME
Located in Cumming, Ga., the former Regional Readiness Center (RRC) for the 420th Signal Company, the 230th Support Company and the 560th Battlefield Support Brigade of the Georgia Army National Guard (GA ARNG) was a 20,000-ft² former pharmacy building that was ill-equipped to serve the needs of the modern military.
The Georgia Department of Defense (GADoD) needed a new facility—a modern RRC with a soldier-centric design that would enhance readiness while maintaining functionality.
GADoD hired Burns & McDonnell, which provided comprehensive planning, design and construction support services for the new RRC.
The new 106,200-ft² Cumming RRC provides a permanent readiness and training center for 460 personnel in two companies and one brigade, complete with storage space the units previously did not have on site.
The new RRC's primary facility is a two-story, 102,100-ft² structure. It includes an assembly area, storage areas, weapons vault, kitchen and building utilities. The assembly area has a high-bay ceiling with second floor interior windows to allow for viewing from the upper level. The second floor provides an at-grade main entrance and lobby, a 246-seat auditorium with tiered seating, classrooms, administrative areas, break rooms and physical training areas. Previously, the GA ARNG had to store, stage and transport major equipment in another location. The associated maintenance training building provides 4,100-ft² feet of additional space for maintenance, tools, supplies and storage. The parking surface includes spaces for 179 personal vehicles and 98 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles—commonly known as Humvees—along with dedicated spaces for large vehicles with heavy-duty trailers and other light-duty trailers.
Throughout the planning, design and construction phases, the 14-acre site itself posed key engineering challenges in that it was compact, bounded by roads and a prominent creek. A second challenge was achieving both enhanced standard military design and required functionality while meeting energy efficiency requirements.
OVERCOMING SITE CHALLENGES
The parcel of land granted by the City of Cumming immediately presented its primary engineering challenge: the physical site itself. From the start of the planning phase, Burns & McDonnell’s architectural and engineering teams confronted the site’s space constrictions. A modern RRC typically requires a relatively large site to accommodate the necessary buildings, parking areas, drives, stormwater management areas and clear space for security purposes. In addition, a dramatic 100-ft elevation differential existed between the front and back of the site, leaving little space remaining for stormwater detention after the building and adequate parking were designed. The difference in grade made both stable construction and stormwater runoff important considerations.
The solution posed to address the stormwater management requirements was to design stormwater detention vaults and a filter treatment system (with dimensions equivalent to roughly a quarter of a football field) beneath the parking pavement. The vaults were designed to withstand the weight of heavy military equipment parked above them. Using the grade of the site as a design-positive for the new facility, the team constructed 1,700-linear-ft of retaining walls in a terraced grading plan, with the walls reaching a maximum height of 40-ft and resulting in enhanced security and force protection.
Because the site did not allow for the required minimum distances to be met for federal Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection security requirements, the building had to be structurally hardened instead. Typically, setbacks or clear areas are required so that vehicle drives and parking areas maintain a minimum distance from critical buildings to minimize the effects of blast forces resulting from explosive devices. Instead, the structural hardening for the Cumming RRC includes blast-resistant windows and a significantly enhanced structural system.
ACCOUNTING FOR SEISMIC ACTIVITY
In addition to the building hardening associated with the reduced setbacks, the site is subject to occasional seismic activity. Structural plans, as well as architectural features and electrical and mechanical systems, had to take this into account.
The prominent adjacent creek was challenging because it feeds into Lake Lanier—a primary source of drinking water for metropolitan Atlanta and of vital importance to the local community. That importance was highlighted when an adjacent, unrelated construction project was shut down by regulators for an extended period of time due to soil erosion affecting the stream. The design team had to develop erosion control and stormwater management solutions that would meet both the state and local criteria. Combining three solutions ensured that the facility’s impact on the creek was minimal. The team minimized the impact on the creek both during construction and for the completed, operational facility through the use of retaining walls, which required moving 130,000-yd³ of earthwork during the construction phase; an effective stormwater detention system; and highly detailed erosion control measures.
To achieve enhanced military design and standard functionality the team had to consider current and future expectations of military readiness while using innovative engineering solutions to meet GADoD’s requirements and GA ARNG’s needs. The unit’s readiness is boosted by the facility’s specialized design, which is centered on training and support. Moving from a converted commercial space into a modern facility that features the latest technologies enables the units to meet modern training standards while keeping equipment nearby and accessible. Finally, with the new Cumming RRC, the GA ARNG has the space it needed to store, stage and train in a single location. Logistics are made easier.
FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
Sustainability and efficiencies were a critical consideration at every phase of the project. Cost-effective, energy-conserving and recovery features were incorporated into all aspects of design and construction. More than value-added features, these improvements are essential to functionality, including in times of emergencies.
To achieve efficiencies now and in the future, the building envelope was designed to minimize energy demand and operating expense. This envelope helped reduce the size of HVAC system needed to maintain indoor air quality and thermal comfort. The main entry area features large windows that allowed the team to implement a daylight harvesting approach while maintaining low thermal conductivity. Lighting controls in other parts of the structure use occupancy sensors—infrared, ultrasonic or dual-technology—to minimize unnecessary energy usage.
The building itself incorporates more than 1,000 sensors monitoring electrical and HVAC systems, ventilation and outdoor air rates, and lighting system performance to optimize all system functions. The water systems include water-saving technologies that reduce usage by nearly 50 percent, helping the facility surpass plumbing code standards. Sustainability also was a consideration in the interior design. All interior finishes are low-emitting to preserve indoor air quality.
Sustainable practices were implemented during the construction phase as well. The contractor recycled more than 95 percent of construction waste, reducing the environmental impact of the work. Sustainable construction materials included almost 35 percent recycled content, nearly 25 percent regionally sourced and manufactured materials, and more than 74 percent of wood from sustainably managed forests.
All of these sustainability initiatives earned the Cumming RRC certification as LEED Silver from the U.S. Green Building Council. The mechanical and electrical system solutions are designed to save operational costs for GA ARNG and reduce the environmental impact by approximately 30 percent of typical usage. In its first year of operations, the Cumming RRC has exceeded energy efficiency expectations, with documentation for seasonal analysis underway to confirm the projected savings.
The project team led by Burns & McDonnell delivered the RRC on schedule and on budget. Being able to draw on experience from completing more than 20 readiness centers across the country, they took a physically challenging site and complex structural and design requirements and produced a high-performance, energy-efficient facility that will keep the GA ARNG poised and prepared...now and for the future.