New WHINSEC campus to be completed next year

benw@ledger-enquirer.comApril 2, 2013 

If construction continues as planned, the new campus of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning will be 60 percent complete by the end of this year.

Students already have moved into two of seven buildings that served as the former National Infantry Museum, said Jerson Ortiz, chief of the Educational Technology Division and project manager for the $28 million renovation. When the construction is completed by next year on Baltzell Avenue, the campus will replace several buildings and portable classrooms the institute is using on Richardson Circle.

Lee Rials, a post public affairs spokesman, said the institute currently has about 250 students from 13 different Latin American countries and will train 1,500 to 1,800 this year.

The renovation is being completed in phases by several different contractors. Students are already using Building 323 as a library, staff and faculty development and translation department. Building 397 is serving as the institute's engagement simulator trainer.

Over the next four months, Ortiz anticipates Building 316, a large classroom and auditorium, and Building 322 for staff will be completed sometime during the summer.

The crown jewel on the campus is the main Infantry Museum building. It is scheduled for completion by December or earlier. "I would say by then, 60 percent of the campus will be moved in by the end of the year," Ortiz said of Building 396.

The main building will be used as classrooms and by members of the command staff. "If everything stays on track and we don't run into any major construction issues, it should be good to go," Ortiz said.

The last two buildings, Nos. 316 and 322, will round out the last projects in the renovation by 2014. Design work already has started on the projects.

Overall, Ortiz is pleased with what he's hearing from students and staff using the renovated buildings. Some had concerns about heating the structure. "It's like buying a house," Ortiz said. "You have to wait until the building settles in. We haven't had any major issues with the construction. From that perspective, it has been functional and it has met our expectations."

The former Infantry Museum was completed in 1925 and first used as the Station Hospital. It was used as an outpatient clinic after Martin Army Community Hospital opened in 1958. Nearly 20 years later in 1977, the building was renovated for use as the Infantry Museum.

One concern in the renovation project is making sure that each building meets building codes of today instead of one that was built nearly 90 years ago.

"I am pleased with the outcome of the first two buildings," Ortiz said.

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