SUNDT HAD ALWAYS BEEN QUITE AGILE IN FINDING WORK and trying new techniques, and this was especially true with the federal government.
Military Family Housing
One of Sundt’s most successful areas of federal work has been building homes, and often entire neighborhoods, for service members and their families.
Because of the country’s switch to an all-volunteer military, government officials during the Reagan administration were focusing a lot of attention on recruiting and retaining service men and women. While this was happening, some significant shifts in demographics were also taking place: more military members were getting married earlier in their careers; competition for better-educated personnel, engineers and computer technicians was increasing; and the families of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine personnel were becoming more involved in the decision to volunteer. Increasingly these families wanted to live just as the rest of American society was living.
What they encountered instead was base family housing that was full most of the time, and waiting lists to get a home assigned sometimes stretched over a year. Most of the available homes were post WWII structures built in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Many were in need of substantial repairs and were not at all like civilian homes “outside the gate.” This situation led to a push to improve the quality of life for the service members’ families, and resulted in programs that built or renovated thousands of homes and upgraded aging neighborhoods across the country.
The military determined early they could not use low bid to procure their new housing, since many of the existing structures had asbestos and lead paint that would need to be abated, and in some cases infrastructure that would need to be replaced. To get the biggest bang for the buck, as well as designs that were market-driven, most Department of Defense agencies used a negotiated best value approach in their procurement. This meant the proposers took the basic requirements (number of units, site area, amenities, etc.), added the most enhancements they could from the government’s wish list and developed a proposal that offered the most home for the money.
What made these contracts unique was that the budget amount, or funds available, was often published along with the project requirements. This meant the proposers were all working with the same cost target, but their products, approach and amenities could end up being quite different.
These proposals were often quite lengthy and detailed, so the cost to compete for them limited the competition. Sundt, together with Actus Corporation as a joint venture partner, excelled in this area and developed a reputation across the Department of Defense as one of the best military family housing providers.
As the program grew in size, the military determined they could get even more value for its money by creating bundles of projects that a select group of contractors could pre-qualify for. This narrowed the competitive field even further and allowed the end-user to be even more specific about the project requirements, knowing that the contractor selected would be very familiar with all aspects of their program.
Sundt was selected to participate in many of these short list programs. In one instance, the company received five separate contracts for housing at the same Air Force base. Being selected more than once on a particular base was not unusual for Sundt. Its military family housing team was called back by 19 different installations to construct neighborhood after neighborhood of housing.
Sundt’s first military family housing project was located at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck, New Jersey. Sundt and a joint venture partner had just started construction when the Navy put the project on hold because the site encroached on a wetlands area. The site was basically abandoned throughout the harsh winter that followed, and when crews returned in the spring they found their initial work had been heavily damaged by the snow and freezing temperatures. A great deal of re-work had to be done before the homes could be completed.
At a project at Altus Air Force Base in southwest Oklahoma, a neighborhood of 184 homes was about half-way finished when a massive storm hit. No one was hurt, but large hail and high winds caused considerable damage, which Sundt repaired while it was finishing the remainder of the homes so they would be ready for Air Force families on schedule.
Military Housing for High-Risk Environments
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Sundt was awarded three separate Navy housing contracts which required designs that would meet the area’s stringent seismic codes. Not long after one of these projects at the Concord Naval Air Station got underway, a major earthquake hit, causing damage to most of the older structures in the area. However, since Sundt’s houses had post tensioned “raft” foundations, which tend to move as a solid piece during an earthquake, they sustained only minor damage.
In addition to the housing at Clark Air Base in the Philippines (discussed in the chapter on international work) Sundt also worked on the Pacific island of Guam, building a 300-unit housing project that had to withstand the high winds of super typhoons that occur frequently in that part of the world. To meet this and other requirements, Sundt choose concrete for the walls and roofs. Because the climate on Guam is very hot, energy efficiency is also a great concern. To address the structural requirements, along with the need for insulation, Sundt used an expanded polystyrene (EPS) block forming system for the reinforced concrete walls.
Over 260,000 EPS blocks were manufactured for the project on the island. These blocks were stacked like LEGOs and filled with concrete. The final product was a sturdy home that was well insulated and quite sound proof.
Shortly after Sundt completed this project, super typhoon Paka hit the island. The winds, which were in excess of 230 miles per hour, were the strongest ever recorded there and resulted in extensive damage all over the island. Sundt’s houses suffered some exterior damage but remained intact throughout the storm.
‘Mega’ Housing Projects
Sundt worked on several “mega” housing projects for the military. One of the largest was at Fort Drum in upstate New York, and it was a significant job in many ways. Over 1,000 homes were constructed over three building seasons. Winters in this part of New York are extremely challenging, and the Lake Effect snowfall is often measured in feet rather than inches. Innovative production techniques were needed to construct the homes’ exteriors during the good weather so crews could stay busy inside during the extremely cold winters.
A sprawling 812-unit community of homes was built in the San Diego area under a quality of life program the Navy called Neighborhoods of Excellence. Sundt’s winning proposal for this project contained a comprehensive recycling program for the 723 existing 1950s-era row-houses that were to be torn down. Long before it became the fashionable thing to do, Sundt and the Navy took a “green” approach to this project, which resulted in the recycling of over 80 percent of the 124,000 tons of material that resulted from the demolition process. This also produced significant cost savings for the Navy, because the debris didn’t have to be hauled to a landfill.
Bayview, as the new neighborhood is called today, looks nothing like its predecessor. Its three- and four-bedroom townhomes have all the amenities of a modern San Diego neighborhood, including spectacular views of the harbor.
Another notable project was built for a private developer as part of the Air Force and Army’s consolidation into what are now called Super Bases. At Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, located in New Jersey northeast of Philadelphia, Sundt constructed over 1,600 new homes and neighborhood amenities. This project was a unique collaboration with the development group, which provided most of the materials through a special purchasing arrangement that saved a significant amount of money.
Fort Lewis, located south of Tacoma, Washington, is another Super Base, serving the Army and Air Force (McCord AFB). Sundt was chosen as the design/assist contractor by two national developers as part of a team to propose, win and construct more that 450 new homes and renovate over 1,000 existing homes. The renovation phase was a unique challenge for Sundt’s workers, because the housing at Fort Lewis was almost always fully occupied. This meant that work on these units was often done when the service member was on deployment and the family could be placed in temporary housing. Sundt’s crews became very adept at adapting to shifting timeframes and locations, all while working in an occupied neighborhood.
The Fort Lewis project was spread over 12 different sites that the development group called villages, with each bearing a significant name in Army history.
Another notable project was at 29 Palms California for the U.S. Marines. This 600-unit project was built under what was called the 801 privatization program. A joint venture called Sundt/Actus/Bland created a development company to pursue this program’s opportunities and won the project at 29 Palms. After completion, the development company owned the housing for almost 20 years and leased it back to the Marines.
In all, Sundt constructed over 14,000 units of military family housing during the ’80s, ’90s and during the first decade of the 21st century, when the program to upgrade homes for military families was at its peak.
Los Alamos Flood Control Structure Presented Multiple Challenges
One of Sundt’s more unusual projects for the federal government occurred in 2000 in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the same location where the company built facilities that were used to develop the first atomic bomb 57 years earlier.
It all began with a devastating wildfire at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that made national headlines that year. The U.S. Forest Service had started a controlled burn to clear brush, but the blaze escaped control and burned for over two weeks, devastating 48,000 acres of wilderness and destroying 400 homes. The fire encroached dangerously on the LANL, but was extinguished before inflicting damage to the facility and its nuclear reactors.
Soon it was apparent that while one crisis had been averted, another was looming on the horizon. The denuded landscape around Pajarito Canyon left the area vulnerable to flooding, because much of the vegetation that absorbs runoff and acts as a natural barrier to erosion had been destroyed. Later, inspectors surveying the damage also noted that the scorching heat of the fires had literally burned the soil, causing it become glazed over and hydrophobic, or water repellant.
Several experiments showed that the altered soil chemistry created a situation in which water simply pooled or ran off to lower ground. Factoring in these conditions, hydrologic models predicted that storm-water runoff in the area could increase by as much as 100 percent, sending a wall of water rushing down Pajarito Canyon.
In the bottom of the canyon sits Technical Area 18 (TA-18), a highly secure nuclear research facility used for training and nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship, one of very few such facilities in existence.
After evaluating the situation, the Department of Energy (DOE), the LANL and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that a serious flood at TA-18 could have disastrous results. The solution, construction of a flood control structure in the canyon one mile upstream from TA-18, became the Corps’ most urgent project in the world at the time.
Sundt Construction was contacted and, utilizing an existing maintenance contract, was quickly assigned the task. But it was the demanding, fast-track schedule that became the project’s biggest challenge. With the summer monsoons threatening, the project had to be completed as quickly as possible. The research conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory involves some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world. Background checks and security procedures for lab personnel are rigorous, and no exception could be made for Sundt’s project.
To provide access to the jobsite, Sundt bulldozed a dirt road down the side of the canyon that had a 22 percent grade. Halfway down the canyon wall, a flat area was created where articulated trucks could be loaded with concrete. The concrete was batched on the lip of the canyon and transported to the area via a large pipe. The loaded trucks then made a treacherous journey to the bottom of the canyon where they dumped the material at the dam site.
The first step in the project was to construct a keyway, which would anchor the structure and prevent it from being pushed downstream by a powerful wall of water. The keyway extends 45 feet below the streambed, measuring 10 feet wide at the bottom and 40 feet wide at the top. Once the keyway was completed, crews continued to build the structure on top of it using a conventional mix of roller-compacted concrete (RCC), which was chosen because it sets up quickly, allowing crews to raise the structure about five feet per day.
As the structure began to rise above the streambed, crews started work on the stilling basin, another critical element of the project. During times of heavy storm runoff, the turbulent force of water passing through the downstream gallery opening could slowly erode the base of the structure. This problem would be magnified during a 100-year flood, when the structure would be filled to capacity and water would surge over the top. The construction of an RCC stilling basin at the foot of the structure prevents churning floodwaters from scouring the base of the structure.
The structure, which was substantially complete in 63 days, required 67,000 cubic yards of concrete. It is 390 feet wide at its crest, 115 feet tall, and 93 feet thick at its base.
Sundt’s remarkable accomplishment reminded company veterans of the stories they had been told of the company’s first experience in this rugged area 35 miles northwest of Santa Fe. It was there in 1943 that Sundt built the original Los Alamos facility under emergency wartime conditions.
Border Fence Construction Follows 9/11
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Federal Government stepped up security in many areas, including along the border between the United States and Mexico. Much of this vast expanse of sparsely populated land was without a fence of any kind, and the Department of Homeland Security decided to remedy the situation with sections of fence that would prevent entry by not only illegal immigrants, but also smugglers and their vehicles.
Sundt built approximately 30 miles of this fence in Arizona and California, most of it consisting of four-inch-diameter sections of pipe, filled with concrete and spaced four inches apart. The fence is approximately 15 feet tall and buried deep enough in the ground to keep vehicles from being able to topple it.
Building these border fence projects presented a number of challenges. The first was extremely short project schedules, dictated by officials desiring to remedy the “open border” problem as quickly as possible. Next was the need to fabricate the steel pipes and deliver them to the remote jobsites. Because at the time the demand for steel was at an all-time high in the southwestern United States due to the construction boom, steel fabricators were already working at full capacity. For some sections of the fence it became necessary to employ the services of several separate steel fabrication plants to achieve the level of supply that was necessary to get the project completed within the allotted schedule.
Once the time slots were reserved for the steel fence poles and contracts were negotiated with suppliers, then extensive coordination between the project management and the various suppliers was required to maintain a constant flow of materials to the site, but only enough to complete each day’s work, since no excess material could be stored on site.
Historically, the security along the U.S./Mexico border has been fraught with issues of smuggling, thefts and myriad other criminal activities. After initial meetings with the Border Patrol, Sundt was informed early-on that leaving materials or equipment at remote job site locations would be a serious mistake, not only for the company, but also its client, the Department of Homeland Security. As a result, job site security was a high priority. For many of its border fence projects, Sundt hired security specialists to guard the job site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to protect construction workers, equipment and supplies.
Weather was also challenging to the success of these projects. Temperatures in the desert Southwest often exceed 105 degrees on a daily basis. Additionally, annual monsoon rains can add high humidity to already uncomfortable working conditions. As a result, welders often worked at night so that the effects of working under extreme heat were lessened and incidents of dehydration were decreased.
On one of the Border Fence projects, survey crews revealed that several Mexican National families had built their homes directly on the border line, and in some cases the homes were built over the line. It became necessary to move homes, and in some cases, cut through existing properties to put the border fence in its proper place. By adjusting the sequence of work, Sundt worked around each of the questionable properties in order for the local authority to assist landowners with relocations and/or rebuilds.