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Mess Hall renovated before closing

Millions Spent On Doomed Mess Hall

By the end of June, the Army will close the main mess hall at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax, Va., only six months after a one-year renovation costing a reported $6 million, Government Executive has confirmed.

The Eagle’s Nest mess hall underwent a major renovation that brought new lighting, ceilings and floors, as well as upgraded furniture, bathrooms and display boards detailing the installation’s history, as described by the base newsletter, the Belvoir Eagle, last November. “Everything is brand new,” said Vicki Davis, supply division chief for the Logistics Readiness Center. “We are really a premier dining center now.”

But an Army order drafted last August placed numerous chow lines on a list of facilities to be repurposed in the interest of efficiency. The move was designed to allow soldiers to rely on smaller, more mobile eateries.

“Based on a review done by the Army Audit Agency and the directives found in an Army order on improving dining facility operations, it was determined that the Fort Belvoir Dining Facility should be closed,” said Dan Carlson, chief of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command’s Public Affairs Office, in a Friday statement to Government Executive. “The purpose of the dining facility was to support soldiers and other service members who hold meal cards entitling them to meals at dining facilities. At this time, Fort Belvoir has no military personnel holding meal cards. The utilization of the dining facility was below 5 percent, and its contract costs were the highest in the Army for the number of customers supported, which makes it uneconomical to continue operations.”

The spokesman attributed the decision to the Army G4 (deputy chief of staff for logistics), as agreed to by the Fort Belvoir Senior Commander. The Army Installation Management Command will take over the building for another purpose.

“It’s a classic example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, or not caring,” retired Navy Commander Wayne Johnson, a frequent user of the Eagle’s Nest facility, told Government Executive. “Someone at the Pentagon decided to shut down the facility, and no one had the guts or the brains to figure out that we just spent millions renovating it.”

Johnson, who works for a federal agency he declined to identify, has heard from Belvoir staff that the renovation cost was much higher than the $6 million reported in the base newsletter. “The interior of the building was almost completely gutted,” he said. “It probably would have been cheaper to tear it down and start from scratch.”

He calls the decision “insanity,” arguing that the inconvenience to customers during the renovation contributed to the poor traffic. “It is my recommendation that the Fort Belvoir facility be kept open at least for five years,” he added. “Someone at the Pentagon needs to be called before Congress to explain this or those in charge of the gross waste of tax dollars be fired or criminally prosecuted.”

Johnson has written Virginia’s two senators requesting an inspector general investigation.

By Charles S. Clark, June 6, 2016

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