U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DoDEA working together to build modern schools in Japan

by Martin Taylor, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan District
Stripes Okinawa

Tokyo, Japan – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is employing innovative strategies to overcome challenges in international construction projects.

USACE Pacific Ocean Japan (POJ), or Japan Engineer District (JED) as it is commonly called, is the Departments of Defense’s (DoD) design and construction agent for U.S. forces and other agencies in Japan. Simply put, USACE is responsible for the overall management and implementation of Department of Defense construction programs in Japan. Construction programs include piers, runways, barracks, and even commissaries. For many parents who serve in Japan as Uniformed Service Members or DoD Civilians one of JED’s most important missions is building world class schools for their children.

The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) established schools in the Pacific theater shortly after the end of World War II. DoDEA provides the children of U.S. military and eligible DoD civilian personnel families stationed throughout Japan with a comprehensive K-12 school system. Currently, there are over 15,000 students in 33 schools throughout Mainland Japan and Okinawa.

In order to fulfill their mission of enriching the lives of military-connected students and the communities they serve DoDEA will work with JED to build sixteen new schools in Japan over the next ten years. The new schools fulfill the 21st Century Educational objectives of DoDEA by introducing designs and layouts that complement modern education standards. The upcoming schools will be organized around a central "Commons" space designed to accommodate the entire school population for assemblies, lunch, after-school events and other large group activities.

“DoDEA Pacific truly values our partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers as we work together to create the optimum learning environment for our students, insuring they are college and career ready,” said Ms. Lois Rapp, the DoDEA Pacific Director for Student Excellence.

In the recently completed Yokota High School, located on Yokota Air Base in Western Tokyo, the Commons connects directly to a state-of-the-art Black Box theater, gymnasium, Information Center, food service, and classrooms neighborhoods. The space was designed to incorporate natural daylight in the majority of the educational spaces. This feature contributed to the project being certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver rating.

Several obstacles had to be overcome before the construction of the Commons on Yokota High School could even begin. Many U.S. Installations in Japan are located on reclaimed land and fill soil. The soil is easily liquefiable and subject to frequent seismic activity which Japan is known for. In order to overcome the unstable top layer of soil the majority of facilities in Japan are constructed on pile foundations. The pile foundations transfer the weight of the structure from the unstable top layer of soil to stronger layers of rock and soil found deeper in the Earth.

Along with the increased engineering and construction requirements DoDEA and JED must also overcome language and culture barriers. The design and construction of DoDEA schools in Japan are completed through Military Construction (MILCON) programs. MILCON is a United States Government (USG) construction program that provides property for service members and their families to work, train, and live. JED works with stakeholders to draft conceptual drawings and technical narratives to ensure the proposed facilities meet the operational and technical requirements of the end user. Next, JED awards and administers the design and construction contracts.

Throughout the design and construction process JED works with its counterparts to ensure USG criteria and standards are applied to the maximum extent practicable. It was during this process the Japanese contractors awarded the Yokota High School Project suggested using an innovative method known as the Multi-Mixing Bucket (MMB) method or Soil-Cement Slurry (SCS) to build upon the foundation of the new facility. Rather than excavating and disposing the existing materials and replacing it with structural fill as the building platform for the foundation, the contractor used in-situ materials and mixed it with a cement slurry.

JED worked with all stakeholders to implement this widely used Japanese construction methodology, which exceeded the original structural design parameters of the project, improved the efficiency of the construction schedule, and led to cost savings. This construction methodology is now being incorporated in other designs on Yokota Air Base and other military installations in Japan.

JED also works with contractors during the design phase of projects to identify and overcome any potential challenges. Identifying challenging design elements early can prevent unnecessary cost overages and construction delays.

U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo (CFAS) is a United States Navy base, in Sasebo, Japan, on the island of Kyūshū. The elementary school that serves this military community was built in 1978 by the Government of Japan. On March 30, 2011, DoDEA began working with JED to build a modern school for the CFAS community that incorporated “Commons” and other contemporary design features to create a first rate learning environment.

“The Sasebo Resident Office is looking forward to delivering Sasebo’s first 21st Century elementary school for U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo (CFAS). The new elementary school will accommodate approximately 250 students from Pre-K through 6th grade and will be constructed to meet a LEED Silver level rating”, said Don George, JED’s resident engineer at CFAS.

Early in the design phase of the Sasebo elementary school JED worked to overcome hurdles with the school’s mandatory blast resistant windows. Blast resistant windows have a complex design criteria and have to meet requirements outlined by several DoD construction standards. JED’s structural team worked with the contractors and manufactures as they developed calculations to manufacture blast resistant windows. After several months calculation reviews and submittals, the contractor successfully verified in their calculations that the blast resistant window system met the requirements in accordance with DoD’s Minimum Antiterrorism Standards/Standoff design. This group effort saved nearly 3 to 4 months on procurement time, which will result in earlier arrival to the project site. Another benefit to locally manufactured materials is that they eliminate long lead times in case of repair and maintenance for DoDEA years after construction is complete

“As engineers we are always looking to find the best solution for our stakeholders. The Japanese construction professionals deliver each project within our program with innovative ideas and top quality construction material that consistently meets U.S. and Alliance requirements,” said Colonel Thomas J. Verell Jr., Commander, Japan Engineer District. “Lessons learned from these projects will help DoDEA and JED design and construct a world class school system for the children of the men and women who serve America overseas.”

Are you interested in working in an exciting and dynamic environment? The Japan Engineer District is hiring a wide range of engineers, architects, and program managers to provide engineering solutions to our customers and deliver positive impacts for today and tomorrow. Benefits include living quarters allowance for eligible DoD civilian employees, post allowance, health insurance, professional and leadership development programs, and the opportunity to experience one of the richest cultures in the world. You can find our job openings at USAJOBS website. Learn more about life in Japan District on our Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/JapanEngineerDistrict/, and U.S. Army Forces Japan website, http://www.usarj.army.mil/, to see if a career in Japan is right for you!

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