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Fort McCoy barracks first to be built in 70 years

FORT MCCOY -- Fort McCoy broke ground Wednesday on its first new barracks in seven decades, even as it prepares to end its eight-year role as a mobilization training center.

FORT MCCOY -- Fort McCoy broke ground Wednesday on its first new barracks in seven decades, even as it prepares to end its eight-year role as a mobilization training center.

The fort is among six of 10 Army centers that will lose that designation Saturday as the U.S. looks to cut troop numbers overseas. It will cost the installation about 200 contract employees and about 500 soldiers stationed as mobilization support.

The shift will allow the fort to refocus on its original mission of providing training in a four-season climate, fort public affairs officer Linda Fournier said. Being a mobilization center accounted for only 12 percent of the fort's activities, she said.

Fort McCoy is expected to continue training more than 100,000 people a year, Fournier said, unless Defense Department budgets are significantly reduced.

The installation also will start construction as early as next week on a $6.8 million transient training/mobilization barracks.

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The two-story, 29,462-square-foot brick and mortar building will have 168 beds, compared with 50 in current barracks. It will have a similar layout to the old barracks but is more eco-friendly, can separate male and female soldiers and will include laundry facilities, an Internet cafe, activity rooms and air conditioning.

When ready in October 2012, it also will allow the fort to push for more winter training. In past cold seasons, the number of base soldiers has dwindled from 10,000 to about 1,000, said Liane Haun, chief of master planning division in Fort McCoy's directorate of public works.

The fort's 259 wood barracks were expected to last only six years when built in 1942, Fournier said.

Most have been renovated in the past eight years at an average cost of $350,000 each. While the facilities remain in great shape, "after awhile, there's only so much you can do with it in renovations," Fournier said.

The Army is pushing to replace all World War II-era wood buildings, Haun said.

The new building should help keep the fort in service for the next 100 years, fort Senior Commander Glenn Lesniak said.

The fort's goal to replace all of the old barracks will take about another five years of planning and ultimately cost "billions of dollars," Haun said.

(c)2011 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)

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