New detention facility in Afghanistan a team effort

Middle East District
Published Jan. 21, 2010

Col. Michael McCormick, Neil Helliwell, Maj. Gordon Bell, Lt. Col. Michael Rounds, Col. John Garrity, and Nelson Mora cut a ceremonial ribbon during the completion of construction celebration for the Shamali Detention Facility. USACE photo.
The new Shamali Detention Facility, located about 40 miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan, will soon replace the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF) and is considered the new standard for detention facilities in Central Asia and the Middle East.

It is also the product of hard work performed by many people from many organizations located around the globe. The Afghanistan Engineer District (AED)-North led the effort on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers, with support from the Middle East District (MED).

“This was a very high-profile project,” said Joseph Zaraszczak, chief of MED’s Afghanistan Branch, who served as project manager when the project began in 2008. “This one was being followed closely by the Department of Defense, Department of Army, U.S. Central Command, and by the international media.”

The previous incarnation of an internment facility at Bagram Airfield, a converted aircraft hangar left behind by the Soviets after their occupation ended in the 1980s, was deteriorating and limited the ability of the command to institute vocational, educational and religious discussion programs for the detainees to assist in their reintegration into Afghan society.

“Of the many projects the Afghanistan Engineer District has, I believe this is Gen. (David) Petraeus’s number one theater construction project,” Col. Michael McCormick, commander, AED-North, said during the construction completion ceremony Sept. 17, highlighting the criticality of the facility.

The planning process actually began several months ahead of any official directive. Zaraszczak was in Afghanistan as part of a project planning team, called a charrette, in January 2008. Discussions about the scope of the detention facility project weren’t on their original schedule, but plans changed when Army leadership decided they should begin considering the highly anticipated project as part of their charrette efforts on other projects in the FY-08 Military Construction program.

Another planning charrette traveled to Afghanistan in April 2008 to begin taking a serious look at the project site and discussing the scope of work with the end user – Task Force Guardian – and other stakeholders. From there, a torrent of work began.

Segregated cells house detainees who require a higher level of security. The entire campus can house more than 1,000 detainees. USACE photo.
The Design Directive arrived April 29 and Mark Curry, a MED architect, immediately began working on a concept design for the new facility. MED’s design team completed 50 to 60 percent of the architectural, structural and civil designs – far beyond the normal 35 percent at the concept phase, according to Curry.

“We did more than usual for this design-build package because of the short time frame required. The contractor was able to jump straight into the more advanced phases of the design process,” said Curry. “The contractor was able to start producing the construction documents and ordering the pre-engineered metal buildings sooner than they would have if we had only completed the standard 35 percent.

“I am definitely not suggesting the contractor’s design team didn’t have much work to do,” he added. “Due to the time we spent with the facility’s user working out spaces and flow during the charrette, we provided them with a huge jump start on the project.”

“It is amazing to look at Mark’s early designs now and see that the finished product is so similar to his original vision,” said Zaraszczak. “He did an excellent job of getting the project rolling on the design side to meet the customer’s needs.”

MED advertised the project on June 4 and awarded a design-build contract to Prime Projects International of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on July 30. The Notice to Proceed (NTP) was issued just two weeks later, and the project was fast tracked throughout the construction phase, which compressed the project schedule by running design and construction phases simultaneously. PPI’s architectural-engineering department completed the remaining design work and coordinated directly with AED’s resident office at the site. MED’s architects continued to provide reach-back support through completion.

The $60.2 million facility was designed and constructed in 400 days, which is no easy task, according to Zaraszczak.

“This project was my life during the design phase,” said Zaraszczak. “We were working on other projects, but this one demanded almost complete dedication from the design team to meet the customer’s timeframes. We provided reach-back support that continued throughout the construction phase as interim design submittals and construction submittals were flowing continuously. All of them required a quick turnaround for review. The most important thing on this project was to keep moving forward – making modifications as necessary and continuing to progress.”

Outside activity areas at the Shamali Detention Facility. USACE photo.
According to Zaraszczak, in an almost unprecedented convergence of efforts, AED, U.S. Army Central Command, Task Force Guardian, the contractor, and other stakeholders located at Bagram Airfield worked cooperatively from the early days of inception at the charrette stage through design and construction.

“There were a lot (of) people involved in the process and planning of this facility. In my 35 years with the Corps of Engineers I don’t think I’ve been with a harder working, more dedicated team than the people who put this together,” said Jimmy Hadden, AED’s third and final project manager. “This was an outstanding team effort that we can all be proud of for many years to come.”

The new internment facility has the capacity to house more than 1,000 detainees. The 19 buildings on its 40-acre campus include a dining facility, three detainee housing units, one special detainee housing unit, medical housing unit, medical/dental building, large visitor center, water treatment plant, and vocational buildings where detainees can learn carpentry and culinary skills. It also meets all CENTCOM and Geneva Convention requirements.

However, the most impressive part of the project may be the safety record during construction, according to McCormick. Workers logged more than two-million man hours without a single safety mishap.

“Those two million man-hours aren’t just a statistic; there are people behind those,” said McCormick. “Most deserving of recognition for this great construction effort … are the workers who (were) out here.”

From the first planning charrette to the day workers began demining the site and building a fence to the ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 17, the new facility proved to be the shining example of how construction should be done in Afghanistan, said McCormick.

“It is a model for success in how things get done,” he said. “If anyone in Afghanistan, or in the United States or anywhere else in the world, wants to know what they need to accomplish projects on time, within budget, and with a high quality, all they need to do is come here and look at the great team that put this project together.”

The complex, which eventually will be handed over to the Afghan government, began housing detainees at the end of November.