Naval Academy digging into construction work

New field house, King Hall renovation among projects


Just a few days after 1,000 or so midshipmen become officers in the Navy and Marine Corps on May 26, the U.S. Naval Academy will begin several multimillion-dollar construction projects, completing more than $80 million worth of work in two years.

The changes will include sprucing up the academy's main tourist entrance at King George and Randall streets, building a sprawling field house named after the school's first black graduate, remodeling the King Hall dining facility and adding an ice rink across the Severn River.

The wave of construction has come immediately after the academy completed major renovations required because of flooding during Tropical Storm Isabel. Included was work on the air-conditioning plant and about $60 million in work on Chauvenet and Michaelson halls, which house classrooms and academic departments.

That period, like the one the academy is entering now, was unusual, said Cmdr. Joe Grealish, who supervises construction projects at the academy.

"There's always an ongoing period of renovation, a normal churn when you have old buildings, but this has been an above-average level of effort," Grealish said.

Typically, he said, the academy spends $20 million to $25 million a year on such projects.

Most of the building in the next two years will focus on the Wesley Brown Field House and King Hall in the northeast corner of the 330-acre campus.

At a groundbreaking ceremony in March, academy officials heralded the field house -- named after the first black graduate of the academy in 1949 -- as a sign of progress and a first-rate athletic facility.

The 140,000-square-foot structure, to be built near the Santee basin, will include an indoor track that will host intercollegiate competitions as well as "the most advanced technology for personal conditioning and combat preparedness," according to a news release.

To complete the project in King Hall -- where the entire brigade eats more than 11,000 meals a day at breakneck speed -- the academy will for one year serve meals to 2,600 midshipmen in Dahlgren Hall while renovating two-thirds of King Hall. In the next year, all 4,000 midshipmen will eat in the renovated portion of King Hall. Work on the facility is set for completion by August 2008, and will be the first major rehab of the dining hall, built in 1953. Grealish said repairs have often been put off because King Hall is used 11 months out of the year.

Dahlgren Hall, whose ice rink is a favorite haunt of many Annapolis residents and home to academy hockey for more than 50 years, is being rehabbed to accommodate the Mids' mealtimes. Academy officials are studying several possibilities for its use after that, Grealish said, but it will no longer be used for ice skating. A new ice rink built across the Severn and next to the golf club will be completed this fall to take its place.

Although the ice rink in Dahlgren Hall, built in 1908, will be missed, Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuck said, the hockey team has needed a new facility.

"It's not a safe environment," he said. "We're lucky we haven't had someone fall off the railing, and it doesn't meet NCAA specifications."

The new rink, which is being funded through donations to the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation, will be part of a $12 million project that will eventually include six indoor tennis courts. The rink will be finished in the first phase and, once another $6 million in funding becomes available, the tennis facility will be added. The tennis team travels 45 minutes each way to Severna Park to practice, Gladchuck said.

Gladchuck said moving across the Severn to the naval station makes sense because it is home to many academy activities, including golf, cross-country, physical readiness training, the pistol range and sailing crafts.

The plans have elicited concerns in the Ferry Farms neighborhood over how the academy project will affect traffic on Route 648, also known as Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard, the peninsula's only entry point.

James Carey, president of the Ferry Farms Community Association, served in the Navy and generally supports the academy but is among the people with concerns. He noted that he was not speaking on behalf of the association because members had not discussed the matter in a meeting.

"A number of people have said it's not a problem because it's just an ice rink and tennis courts," he said, "but there's no easy solution because the only way to get there is through that winding, narrow road."

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