FORT LEE, Va. (Jan. 10, 2013) -- After a massive two-year construction project, the largest Army lodging facility in the continental United States opened at Fort Lee in late December.
There was little fanfare as admin personnel and maintenance staff moved into the $120 million building over the holiday break. The first guests began checking in on Saturday and more than 800 of the 1,000 rooms are already occupied.
Marc Jannsen, the temporary general manager for Fort Lee Lodging, arrived in early November and quickly set a timeline for opening the facility. Currently on temporary duty here, Jannsen oversees the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, an Armed Forces Recreation Center in Germany.
“In the months leading up to the opening, our biggest challenge was getting the rooms ready,” said Jannsen. “You can imagine how long it takes to put furniture into 1,000 units. Then, we had to add all the amenities. For example, the pots and pans arrived the week prior to opening and it took us nearly three days to place those items in every room.”
While the official grand opening is set for late February, Jannsen said the time between now and then will allow the staff to “shake out the cobwebs” so everything is running smoothly before this premier facility most assuredly becomes the showcase for Army Lodging.
Most of the initial guests at the lodging facility are Army Logistics University students who began classes shortly after their arrival. The process of moving them into the facility seemed to be fairly smooth, according to Jannsen who described it as the “one of the largest check-ins the facility will have for several months, as most of the students will reside at the Army Lodge for several weeks.
“It was very busy and everyone was here helping to check in guests,” said Jannsen. “One night, it was after midnight before I left because we were just that busy. We don’t expect it to be that busy again for a while.”
So far, the guests are raving about their new digs, and several are pleased to be the first to use the gargantuan facility. Staff Sgt. Coyar White, from Fort Stewart, Ga., is attending the 92A senior leader course and checked in over the weekend. Her class runs for 39 days.
“It has been a great experience so far,” she said. “It was busy when I checked in, but it went really quick. It’s very nice to know we are one of the first people to stay in the new rooms.”
White said she was surprised by the amenities in the rooms, especially the pots and pans.
“I was expecting a room with a bathroom and linen – nothing really fancier than that,” she said. “However, they have a little kitchenette, and it’s a very nice, comfortable room overall. It’s like a miniature apartment. I’m enjoying it.”
White also noted how tough it is to be separated from family and loved ones during training, and her new accommodations at Fort Lee should make it a lot easier.
Sgt. Andrew Brahin, from Fort Erwin, Calif., is attending the Advanced Leaders Course and will be at the new lodging facility until next month.
“It’s pretty comfortable – it’s similar to others across the Army – but I was pretty surprised to see dishes in my room, and that was nice,” he said. “It was nice being the first to stay in the room.”
Since Fort Lee is home to many different organizations, there are a lot of people who need assistance from the Directorate of Public Works, the personnel office, and the fire and life safety crews. Despite the demands, the organizations went out of their way to make sure the lodging was ready to go, said Jannsen.
“When I got here in November, one of the assessments I made was that we needed to hire 100 employees,” he said. “That’s very hard to accomplish quickly, but the CPAC here did an incredible job. We’ve already hired 60 people, with 40 to go. It just usually doesn’t go that fast. It shows they really helped to get the property opened.”
Several measures were taking to ensure guests safety, such as the installation of the rocks and benches around the property, primarily to keep vehicles from being able to reach the building.
”They did a great job,” said Jannsen. “It doesn’t take away from the property. Sometimes those type of things can look really ugly in front of a hotel, but they look really nice and it kind of flows with the surrounding area. It protects us from bad people doing bad things to the building.”
One thing that wasn’t ready to go for the new lodge was the restaurant that will be on the first floor. The target for its opening is set for summer. It will be a full restaurant with a bar and there will be a grab and go sections where people can get something that is already prepared and can be micro-waved or cooked in their rooms. The restaurant will be open to everyone on the installation.
The grand opening for the Fort Lee Lodge is set for Feb. 19. Additional information about that event will be published in upcoming editions of the Traveller.