Building a state-of-the art aquatic facility doesn't happen overnight. Just ask officials at Fort Bliss. It took seven years, $15.5 million, and overcoming several challenges to get theirs just right.

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When the $15.5 million Aquatics Training Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, opened May 13, it not only introduced personnel to a state-of-the-art 50,000-square-foot facility, it represented seven years of planning and performance that reveals the ups and downs of planning a base aquatic facility.

Unlike installations whose final fate was sealed by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, Fort Bliss saw remarkable growth, expanding from about 9,300 to 33,000 soldiers. Bursting at the seams, this prompted approximately $4.6 billion in base construction at the sprawling outpost in El Paso, according to Eric Hildreth, chief of community recreation at Fort Bliss.

"Our existing pools - we had two, an outdoor and an indoor - both were in excess of 50 years old," he says. "And we are out here in the desert."

So the new aquatic center was a necessity. Although builders broke ground in November 2011, it was a process that began long before then.

The Center of Standardization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began addressing Fort Bliss pools around 2007, says Jay Clark, an architect with the center.

"We wanted to provide bodies of water to accommodate all types of training and therapy and recreation - kind of run the whole gamut, as opposed to putting [in] one pool that tries to serve everything," Clark says. "The other big thing we were looking at as far as design was to try to make sure we could really separate the wet areas from the dry areas, so that we provide the circulation for people coming in off the street [to get to the facility] separate from the circulation of people that might be going from one pool to another."

As a "design-build" project, all the requirements were contained in the original design document, and a single entity oversaw and executed planning and construction.

"We put all the requirements in the request for proposal, and that took us quite a while to get that finalized and to get that within the funding that we had available to award on this project," says Tammy Jones, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers.

It also required some serious choices to stay within budget.

"We originally started with four pools and we cut that down to three … because our funding was slashed by a little bit as we were working through our design process," Jones says.

She adds that the design review process was of utmost importance to ensure the contractor met request-for-proposal and installation requirements.

Clark notes that design-build projects can provide distinct challenges. For example, once the contract is finalized, it's difficult to make changes to the project. At the same time, he also says it was a fast-moving, expedited process, which led to cost savings.

While cost was important, it wasn't the only consideration. With the level of moisture in such a building, special attention to materials - particularly in the RFP - was crucial, Clark says.

"We were really pleased that they went with a precast concrete system as opposed to metal joists, because metal, of course, is going to corrode," he says. "Even though it may look great in the first year when it's all painted, at some point in time those chemicals are going to get through that paint."

The process went even further, as officials had to ensure the proper mechanical system was installed to battle other contaminants.

"One of the challenges, even beyond a standard indoor pool, say at a YMCA, is … the training that goes on at this facility," Clark says. "The soldiers actually [jump] into the pool fully dressed, and that adds more chemical reaction … [and makes] it an even more corrosive environment."

Overall, he says the experience at Fort Bliss could provide insight for future projects at other installations. One major decision, for example, was to collocate all three new pools.

"When all these new units were moving into Fort Bliss, each one would, in theory, get their own fitness facility and their own pool," Clark says. "The benefit of combining them all into one facility is it really reduces your maintenance and your cost to run the facility because you don't have people scattered all over doing the same job."

Collocation also provided an opportunity to add features that separate 25-meter rectangular pools wouldn't have.

"We were able to provide a diving tank, a 50-meter lap pool with a lot of flexibility based on the depth, the bulkhead, and then the multipurpose pool that's great for recreation," Clark concludes, noting the zero-depth pool entry and temperature controls to assist with therapy. "We were able to provide a lot of different opportunities than if we just scattered them out around the installation."