image of building

Building E-3330 on Aberdeen Proving Ground’s southern annex. Photo by Jack Bunja.

Capabilities Spotlight: Chemical Biological Center’s Drive toward Modernization Picks up Speed

Capabilities Spotlight: Chemical Biological Center’s Drive toward Modernization Picks up Speed

By Don Kennedy, CCDC Chemical Biological Center Communications Officer

FOR MEMBERS OF THE COMBAT CAPABILITIES DEVELOPMENT COMMAND CHEMICAL BIOLOGICAL CENTER who work in the sprawling WWII-era, art deco style Building E-3330, the wait has been a long one. As they arrive at work at Aberdeen Proving Ground’s southern annex, they stop at the recently constructed gate complex that caps Maryland Route 24 and feeds morning rush hour traffic into the core of the United States’ chemical and biological research community.

They turn left onto Magnolia Road and pass the modern Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, and follow the curve in the road to the right past the current construction of the massive Public Health Command complex slowly but surely rising out of a dusty lot on the left. Next they drive by the sprawling U.S. Army Research Institute of Medical Research (MRICD) headquarters completed in 2013 as the morning sun gleams off of the walls of glass that ring the building.

And before they know it, they go back in time, passing the old, one-story brick MRICD lab that once housed their staff. From there, they pass the dilapidated E-3200 compound, a haunting series of rickety old buildings covered in dingy, chipping paint and rusted-over Quonset huts that once served as home for world renowned researchers in the fledgling years of the nation’s CB Defense community. Among the worn buildings is the Amos Fries laboratory, once the jewel of the Center’s capabilities, now not good for much except casting a shadow on the far edges of E-3330.

Across the street, the Sample Receipt Facility (dedicated in 2011) and Advanced Chemistry Laboratory (2014), among the Center’s newest and most modern facilities, stand in sharp contrast to the weathered office and lab facility just across Rickett’s Point Road where 250 employees support the research and development for the nation’s chemical and biological defense enterprise.

It’s a three-minute drive, tops, but a decade-long journey. Those who work in the long beige building have watched through many seasons as modern facilities have sprung up on once-vacant fields. But now, their time has come. The massive nondescript building is scheduled for a massive renovation, during which it will be stripped to its studs and re-imagined as a modern high-end workspace for up to 400.

More than just a pretty space

Center-wide personnel involved in modernization projects and refurbishments over the years have provided valuable lessons that will be used to make the E-3330 project successful.

Although Dan Davis has only a small role to play in the E-3330 project, as a supervisory business manager for the Center’s Research and Technology Directorate he has been intricately involved in numerous laboratory renovations and building projects through his years at the Chemical Biological Center. His experience provides keen insight into how the Center sets its priorities for facility upgrades.

“There are several questions we ask ourselves when we are looking at a project,” he said. “The first and most obvious is whether it is worth the investment. The second — Is there a safety issue that will be resolved by completing this project? Third — will the current facility pass inspections of, for example, the Army, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency if we don’t act? And finally, we take a look at Army strategy documents to determine if the upgrades we make will contribute to achieving Army goals.”

Heather Robbie, the Center lead for the E-3330 project and team member of the Center’s G-4 staff, has been responsible for completing the research to answer those questions. Her answers: “Yes, yes, not over the long run and yes.”

You’ll not get much argument from any of the current staff in E-3330 that refurbishing the building is worth the investment. The basement frequently floods during rainstorms, the roof is leaky, the access doors do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, facades are crumbling, and mold remediation has become a regular occurrence for the Center’s safety office. The layout of the building is a multi-generational patchwork of configurations and reconfigurations. Walk into the lobby in the front of the building and there are visible bundles of cables winding across the ceilings that were installed to accommodate technologies that didn’t exist when the building was erected.

“This project will allow us to start from scratch,” Robbie said. “Once everyone is moved out we’ll gut the building to its studs and start with a new design. I’ve received lots of feedback from the workforce and management about the types of features they want to see in the building when it’s all said and done. And we’re trying to incorporate those features into the plans for the building.”

It isn’t all about beautification of workspaces and reimagining the space. The design will accommodate new and better technology that will increase capability and efficiency in the building’s new labs.

Tom Hughes can attest to the value of that effort. As a chemist in the Engineering Directorate, Hughes is currently in the middle of the refurbishment project in his team’s labs in E-3510, a separate project undertaken to modernize the Center’s testing infrastructure.

“The chambers we use now were installed in the 80s,” he said. “They were commercial units that weren’t really designed to perform agent work. In order to make them work for us, we had to make modifications on the fly.

“We were able to design an environmental chamber that meets glovebox requirements,” Hughes continued. “These hoods have a deeper work surface inside the hood that allows us to test larger samples, and to keep our materials stored inside to help us work more efficiently. The new units will also include noise reduction dampers and modern air handling systems.”

Hughes and the design team used the expertise they gained in designing and building the NTADTS (Non-Traditional Agent Defense Test System), which began testing in 2015.

“We were able to scale down the environmental chamber designs for our use, helping to quicken the pace of testing in the NTADTS, which is in extremely high demand. That means we don’t have to wait in line to do smaller tests in our facilities.”

Some of the lessons learned in the E-3510 lab refurbishment will no doubt be put to use in the labs of the new E-3330 upon completion. The environmental testing labs currently in the basement of the building will no longer flood. Lingering safety issues like mold build-up and roof leaks will be addressed, which will make it easier to pass the numerous inspections the lab is subjected to annually. And, the nation will have a more highly functioning laboratory that is more agile and capable of responding to the current and future needs of the chemical biological defense enterprise.

Image of new building rendering

▲ Rendering of the renovated Building E-3330, which will not only receive a cosmetic face-lift but also include modernized technology to increase capability and efficiency. Graphic courtesy CCDC Chemical Biological Center G-4.

The color of money

The E-3330 project comes with a hefty price tag. The $49 million renovation will be paid for from programmed funding from the OMA funding, or Operations and Maintenance, Army. OMA is the cornerstone appropriation for funding everything from contractual support, to repair parts, to vehicle leases in support of U.S. military forces. The requirements for these funds to be used on existing infrastructure include a building that is already in place, like E-3330, and not meeting current codes. For example, E-3330 is currently out of code with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “The entryways of E-3330 do not currently meet codes for accessibility for new construction, and will be rectified upon completion of the project,” Robbie said.

These funds are distinct from MILCON (military construction) funds used for new construction of facilities such as those labs across the street from E-3330.

But there are other “colors” of money associated the E-3330 project, and a slew of others across the Chemical Biological Center.

LS-6 funding, for example, is used to renovate aging laboratory infrastructure that has become outdated. These types of funds, which are managed at the Center by Program Analyst Troy Neville, are used exclusively for upgrades to surety labs and research facilities that are at least 25 years old and have not been previously renovated, like those in Hughes’ lab at E3510. They are also specifically used for surety buildings.

Another source for modernization is 2363 funding, formerly known as 219 funding. “Every dollar that comes into the lab from customers is ‘taxed’,” said Neville. “These funds are used for workforce and leader development and training, as well as for innovation.” One such example is the Center’s IDEAS (Individual Development of Employee Advanced Development) program that offers seed money to enterprising researchers from across the Chemical Biological Center who have novel ideas for new products that advance the mission to equip and protect warfighters. These 2363 funds can also be used for infrastructure programs to modernize facilities. There are a number of project that are directly tied to the E-3330 renovation, according to Robbie.

“Basically,” she said, “the $49 million price tag doesn’t include anything outside the walls of E-3330 such as expanded parking areas to accommodate 400 employees instead of the current 250 or so that work in the building now.

“This funding (2363) is being used right now to renovate the Berger laboratory buildings (E-4301), where entire wings have been renovated right down to the cubicles that will house the expanded workforce who will eventually occupy that building when that project is completed – from 225 to 350. These funds are exclusively for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation projects. Most of the balance of the Engineering Directorate workforce will reside in the CBRNE Product Development Facility, where Advanced Design and Manufacturing houses development laboratories and additive manufacturing facilities, and have slowly been converting classrooms into data analytical space.

The Advanced Chemistry Laboratory and the Sample Receipt Facility across the street were MILCON projects, as was the NTADTS (the Non-traditional Agent Defense Test System), a chamber constructed in 2015 for large-scale live chemical agent testing. This one-of-a-kind facility features custom-designed environmental controls that can simulate almost all operational conditions from the Artic to the Persian Gulf, and allows for entire systems, rather than just components, to become fully immersed in a chemical atmosphere – the operationally relevant conditions necessary prior to fielding.

Each year, the Center seeks out end-of-year funds that were not used as planned from organizations across the CB Defense Enterprise. “We keep proposals for these projects on a running list of needs and wants from across the Center,” said Davis. “When we are lucky enough to find funding from one of these sources, we have the paperwork in hand and are ready to execute these projects from unused one- or two-year funds.”

“We also use overhead funds for equipment and maintenance acquisition projects as well as infrastructure,” Davis explained. These are generally less expensive projects.

In recent years, funding from the Garrison to maintain facilities has been on the decline, and 2363 funds go a long way in helping the Center keep labs in tip-top shape.

With all these different colors of money, projects become fairly complex to track and keep on schedule. Neville associates the process of keeping track of projects dependent on other projects and acquiring funding of the right color to ensure a smooth program as “an orchestra.”

Oftentimes, one project, the replacement flooring in E-3510 for example, has to be completed before other systems can be started. “Lining all those projects up so there is an orderly flow of work,” said Neville, “can be extremely challenging.”

Robbie agrees. The scale of the E-3330 project will dwarf the one happening in E-3510, or even in the Berger Laboratory. And right now, she’s in the process of collaborating with all the other “musicians” to get the project off the ground.

Employee involvement

In order to get the massive renovation at E-3330 off on the right foot, Robbie has spent the past several months soliciting feedback from affected employees across the Center. She still is.

“We stood up Working Integrated Process Teams (WIPT) from all of the functional areas to come together,” she said. “Each staff and each directorate has a representative to bring back information to their leadership to ensure we are all on the same page. We’re still soliciting and answering questions to ensure we are listening to everyone involved ahead of the scheduled move-out of the building into temporary spaces across the Center for the two- to three-year project.”

What can employees expect when the project is complete?

Since there are not many load-bearing walls in the building, the space can be taken down to its studs and reconfigured any way the Center sees fit. Spaces will have more light, and more modern environmental controls. No longer will the employee who is always too cold or too hot have to wait for the system to be switched from cold-weather mode to warm-weather mode. They’ll be able to adjust their thermostats particular to their own offices.

“We’re going to sign an Memorandum of Understanding with AAFES (the Army and Air Force Exchange Service) to have a stand-alone high-end vending area that will be re-stocked every 2 days,” said Robbie. “If that ‘micro-mart’ is profitable, they will be open to a café for employees to purchase food.”

There will be more access points into the building, with planned kitchenettes and locker rooms. The basement won’t flood, and the facility will be wired with the latest communications equipment.

Employees who drive by all those modern buildings on their way to work will pull into an expanded parking lot in back of E-3330 where old Quonset huts and other worn out buildings used to be. They’ll enter through new doorways that are code compliant, and into offices that are specifically designed for the teams who work in them, with standardized furniture and more varied conference rooms.

“We’re going to try to maximize the views of outside and natural light,” Robbie explained, “There will be café space for visitors to work on computers, like you would see at Starbucks. The Help Desk will be among the teams to co-locate in E-3330 which will eliminate employees having to drive across post to have their computers re-imaged.”

The pesky mold problems that seem to be under constant remediation in one part of the building or the other will be a thing of the past and air quality in general will improve with the installation of new upgraded ventilation systems.

The entire G-staff will be co-located in one place to enhance collaboration and efficiencies. Laboratories will have upgraded environmental controls. And the Center will be the sole occupant of the building, as Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) has already moved out ahead of the renovation.

For every employee who has spent any part of the last decade or so watching new buildings spring up from vacant lots on Ricketts Point Road, their time is quickly approaching. “If all goes to plan,” Robbie said, “we will maximize our capabilities while minimizing our footprint — the best of both worlds.”

Building E-3330 on Aberdeen Proving Ground’s southern annex. Photo by Jack Bunja.