2 of the US military’s service academies are falling apart, with major maintenance backlogs

The US Naval Academy’s sprawling campus, known to midshipmen as ‘the yard,’ in Annapolis, Maryland. Flickr/Public Domain/US Naval Academy
  • Two of the US military’s service academies are facing major repair projects.
  • The renovations are needed to address years of insufficient maintenance and other issues.
  • The projects will cost millions of dollars and take years to complete.

The US Naval and Air Force academies are dealing with major maintenance issues that will require ambitious and expensive overhauls to fix.

The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has seen its infrastructure deteriorate to the point that it endangers the training and teaching of the school’s students, known as midshipmen.

A 2018 audit obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Capital Gazette found a litany of problems, including leaking pipes, mould, crumbling buildings, and failing utility systems.

Read the full Capital Gazette report here >>>

According to The Gazette:

“The report took stock of 13 unfunded maintenance or renovation projects spread among 15 facilities between March 6, 2017, and April 26, 2018. Ten of these facilities are highly important to the academy mission, according to its internal rating system. But of those 10, four rated ‘poor to fair’ and five rated ‘failing to poor’ at supporting the academy’s ultimate goal – to ready midshipmen for naval service.”

A logjam in the maintenance process was made worse by dramatic budget cuts after the academy lost its Flagship Institute designation in the 2013 federal budget sequester. But the problems date back much further.

US Naval Academy Bancroft Hall dorm
Midshipmen in front of Bancroft Hall, the main dorm on the US Naval Academy campus, January 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Macdonough Hall gym, built in 1903, has never been renovated and is still used by three-quarters of the student body for athletics. Its pool is in particularly bad shape, with exposed rebar on its floor and a failing filter system leaving higher amounts of chlorine in the water.

The Nimitz Library, built in 1975, has also never been renovated. It lacks electrical capacity to support all the laptops and mobile phones of students and visitors. Its bookshelves are so close together that a person in a wheelchair likely couldn’t move between them – a violation of federal law mandating equal access for people with disabilities.

Read more: The Coast Guard turned down a request for an Arctic exercise out of concern the US’s only heavy icebreaker would break down and Russia would have to rescue it

The Flagship Institution designation has been restored, and the academy will get $US15 million every other year, starting in fiscal year 2020. The school continues to do emergency maintenance, but even with the influx of money it would take years to fix all the problems, according to The Gazette.

The Air Force Academcy has similar problems

In Colorado, maintenance issues at the US Air Force Academy are more limited in scope but are still having a high-profile impact.

The Cadet Chapel soaring over the Colorado Springs campus has leaks and corrosion linked to cost-cutting measures taken during its construction. The chapel was dedicated in 1963.

US Air Force Academy
Air Force cadets in front of the school’s chapel. Wikimedia Commons

The building is clad in aluminium panels with striations in the surface that the architect, Walter Netsch, wanted to use to reflect light at different angles as the sun hit it at different angles throughout the day, creating a “living building” affect, according to the Associated Press.

To keep the project on budget, however, the school left out sections of sheet metal called internal flashing that Netsch’s design put under the seams of the aluminium panels to direct rain and snowmelt away from the interior. Caulk was used to seal the seams instead.

Read the full Associated Press report here >>>

Water has been getting through the seams for years, according to the academy’s architect, Duane Boyle. There have been multiple applications of caulk, but that has degraded the aluminium.

“We just put buckets out, and if anything we will wipe the wood down when we can,” chapel spokesperson Stephen Peterson told CBS 4 Denver in November.

The school has formulated the most ambitious renovation project in the building’s history to fix the problem – replacing the aluminium skin and installing internal flashing using silicone rather than sheet metal.

The plan includes removal and cleaning of about 24,000 pieces of stained glass. The pipe organ in the chapel will also be restored, Peterson said.

During the renovation, the only thing visible in the middle of the structure will be the steel frame, Peterson said. “It will be like a giant erector set.”

The project was supposed to start in summer 2018, but it’s been postponed twice so school officials could request clarifications from contractors bidding for the project, though Boyle said price was not a factor in the delays. The start date is now June 2019.

The academy has said the project could cost anywhere between $US25 million to $US100 million and take four years to complete. The chapel draws 800,000 visits a year – 500,000 by tourists and 300,000 by people attending events there – but it would be closed to the public throughout the renovation.

“This is a very large, complicated project,” Boyle told the AP. “We’d rather get it right going in.”