A new $58 million building off Nicholson Drive is offering up-to-date training for Army and Marine reservists as well as Louisiana National Guard troops who may have to fight in wars overseas or respond to emergencies closer to home.
For years, these three military branches rented space in three buildings next to the Metro Airport.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission determined during its 2005 session that Baton Rouge should have one reserve center, as opposed to three, to house the different military components in the city.
Now, after more than two years of construction, they are all under one roof for the first time.
Brig. Gen. Glen Curtis, director of joint staff for the Louisiana National Guard, said that before, the three service branches did little together. He expects that will change.
“If you are in the same place it does wonders,” said Curtis.
That same place, called the Armed Forces Reserve Center, is a two-story brick complex with 157,000 square feet of space that will train, support and offer administrative offices for an estimated 735 “soldiers and Marines.” The center also features a joint maintenance shop for all three service branches.
Two Baton Rouge architectural firms, Holly & Grace, and Grace & Hebert, designed the new facility and the Lafayette-based The Lemoine Company served as general contractor. Construction began in early 2009.
Col. Bill Aldridge, construction facilities management officer for Louisiana National Guard, said the new center is also environmentally friendly, meeting modern green building standards for construction and energy efficiency.
The new buildings, located at 7878 GSRI Ave., replace three separate but much smaller facilities built in the 1950s and 1960s around the Metro Airport and leased from the city-parish government. Now, Aldridge said, the new center will save money by being owned outright, have far lower energy costs, as well as lower operational and maintenance costs.
“This place is less than the per-square-footage costs of all of the old buildings,” Aldridge said.
The new facility is also much larger — part of the reason they moved from the airport — and includes state-of-the art training, including simulators, a dark room for night-time operations, and an indoor range, Aldridge said.
Aldridge said the new center also will be ideal for disaster training exercises and will be located next to a future first responder training facility that LSU plans to build. And the new armed forces reserve center can serve as a command and control center during a future hurricane and other natural center, he said.
The three branches held a ceremony Monday to commemorate the opening of the building and the speakers emphasized the teamwork they expect will result from all of them being in same building.
Col. Paul Deckert, headquarters battalion inspector-instructor of the Marine Corps Reserve, said that Marine Reservists, who represent about one-sixth of the people who will use the new center, will benefit from joint training.
“We will train as we fight,” said Paul Deckert.
“This is an opportunity for us to jointly do all kind of things together, but most importantly, to learn from and appreciate each other,” said Maj. Gen. Luis Visot, commanding general 377th Theater Sustainment Command of the U.S. Army Reserve.
U.S. Army Reserve Ambassador for Louisiana, Thomas Fierke, noted that reservists make up 43 percent of those serving in the post Sept. 11, 2001 military, especially in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And among the U.S. Army Reserve, 843 have been killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001, he said.
“I was surprised to find the number was that high,” Fierke said.