NORAD, NorthCom expanding at Peterson

By PAM ZUBECK THE GAZETTE Updated: March 11, 2005 at 12:00 am • Published: March 11, 2005
A $51 million addition is under construction at Peterson Air Force Base to house the nation’s homeland defense and binational aerospace commands. The project, started in late 2003, will open in phases from May through January. It adds 116,000 square feet, nearly doubling the space occupied by the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The two missions are housed in a facility built for U.S. Space Command, which merged with Strategic Command in recent years. The two new wings will put the Northern Command and NORAD under one roof, rather than having a third of their 1,500 personnel scattered in two other Peterson buildings. “This facility will allow us all to come together for the mission of NORAD and NorthCom for homeland defense, military assistance to civil authorities and aerospace warning and control,” said Navy Capt. Kevin Lindsey, director of logistics and engineering. The project was conceived before the Northern Command, formed in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, became operational in October 2002 — the same month Merrick & Co. of Aurora was hired to design the project. Swinerton Builders of Arvada is the general contractor. Funding over three years has pumped $29.7 million into construction and site improvements, $18.6 million into furnishings and technology and $2.7 million into power supply and fiber optics capabilities. The project was enlarged by about 12,000 square feet after work began because of the Northern Command’s growing demands, and an additional $1.1 million was allocated for construction problems that surfaced later. But as Robert Michaels of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the project, said, “It’s not a normal office building.” Because some data are classified, special conduits are being installed and certain rooms, such as a “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility” where topsecret work takes place, are being soundproofed. The domestic warning center, where intelligence is digested and response decisions are made, will double in size. So if there’s a terror- ist attack or natural disaster, the center has room for all the agencies that need to be there, said Michael Kucharek, NORAD/NorthCom spokesman. The center, in the basement of one wing, will have 11-foot ceilings to create an open atmosphere and ensure everyone can see wall-sized screens that will display maps and satellite images. It allows the Northern Command, responsible for air, land, sea and computer attack assessments involving the United States, to make operational decisions on the spot. The command center at Cheyenne Mountain, in contrast, monitors potential space and air threats so appropriate agencies can be notified and respond if needed. The addition also has training rooms, offices for special operations and military communications, backup generators, a barbershop, shower rooms for those who work round-the-clock shifts and a 10-car garage for commanders. Also, each of three floors will have special electrical and communication rooms to assure uninterrupted service. The project includes a $1.5 million perimeter of pylons, steel cable, boulders and berms to protect against intrusions. “You couldn’t lease this capability,” Lindsey said. “This is the tool we use to protect America, our weapon system to do our mission.” Whether the project will shield Peterson from base realignment and closure isn’t assured, but one expert said it can’t hurt. Christopher Hellman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., said the commission, to be appointed next week, will consider whether other bases provide similar missions and have modern facilities. The Defense Department’s hit list, due in May, isn’t likely to omit bases from closure just because they’ve had recent construction projects, he said, because a $50 million investment is “chicken feed” compared with the billions of dollars the Pentagon wants to save by closing a quarter of the nation’s bases. However, referring to the new project, Hellman said, “It seems they’re making themselves pretty cozy there.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0238 or zubeck@gazette.com
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