Unused $7M dining hall repurposed as chapel

More than a year after a $7 million dining hall was built at Fort Benning, the unused facility in Harmony Church was converted last year for use as a chapel.

The dining facility is the only construction under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process used for a different purpose, said Frederick Clapp, engineering division chief in the Directorate of Public Works. The post spent $3.5 billion in construction for the U.S. Armor School's move from Fort Knox, Ky., and other massive changes on the installation that was transformed into the Maneuver Center of Excellence.

The facility was designed to serve 1,300 soldiers when completed in January 2011, eight months before the BRAC improvements were mandated for completion. The building closed shortly after the BRAC projects were completed.

"We had this dining facility that it turned out was not needed based on Army criteria for how many people have to be using a dining facility so it was not opened," Clapp said. "The training load was lower than was projected when BRAC was done and projects were programmed."

By the time the Armor School completed its move, Fort Benning had sharply reduced its growth from 28,000 new residents to about 20,000 to the community. The total included soldiers, civilian workers, defense contractors and their families.

"At that time, we were projecting a certain amount of trainees coming from the Armor School, and as you know, that ended up being somewhat less in actuality than we projected," Clapp said.

To cut costs throughout the Army, the Installation Management Command, which runs dining facilities, also was looking for ways to save money. That's when officials realized the 35,000-square-foot building could potentially be used for a different purpose. A chapel had been sought as part of BRAC improvements, but it was cancelled.

"We needed a chapel because we didn't get one," Clapp said.

Officials spent about $60,000 to convert seating space in part of the building for a chapel. Under Army requirements to change a building for a different purpose, officials must be able to covert the building back to its original purpose within 72 hours if needed.

If training loads drop at Sand Hill, a similar change could take place at one of its dining halls.

During the conversion, workers were creative and were able to reuse the space with some materials that were already available, said Kirk Ticknor, operations and maintenance division chief for the Directorate of Public Works.

"We are happy that we were able to provide this critically needed space without spending a lot of money," Ticknor said. "When you look at it, it's clear that it was done plainly, cleanly. It looks good, but it's obviously not gold plated.