By Mary Doyle, Fort Meade and Donna DeMarco, Fort Meade Alliance

Dr. Deon Viergutz, Fort Meade Alliance Foundation president, watches as Col. Erich Spragg, Fort Meade garrison commander, takes his swing at "smashing to wall", signaling the start of demolition and renovation of Kuhn Hall for its transition to being the Fort Meade Education and Resiliency Center.

A virtual wall breaking marks start of unique renovation project

Smashing through a wall with a sledge hammer can leave you with a satisfying feeling. After almost ten years of letters, memorandums, legal reviews, redesigns and multiple layers of approvals, it’s no wonder there were lots of smiles and woops of joy as key participants in the Fort Meade Education and Resiliency Center renovation project took their frustrations out on the walls of Kuhn Hall.


The delays and multiple regulatory requirements are a reflection of the unique funding source for this top-to-bottom renovation which comes from a $3.6M gift from the Fort Meade Alliance and the Fort Meade Alliance Foundation.


“The persistence it took to shepherd this project all the way up through the Secretary of the Army's office will be worth every bit of the effort," Fort Meade Garrison Commander Col. Erich C. Spragg said.


Spragg, the fifth Fort Meade commander to be involved in the development of the project, was just one of scores of people over several days who were given the opportunity to land blows against the bare walls of Kuhn Hall to mark the start of the long awaited renovation project. In approximately 12 months the WWII era building that has been empty for the last several years, will be converted to the Fort Meade Education and Resiliency Center.


“I’m really looking forward to taking that sledge hammer, instead of a shovel, instead of scissors for ribbon cutting, to start this project,” said Congressman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. “Once this construction is completed, this facility will not only offer services to our military, but to our civilian workers, our veterans and all of their families.”


On July 15, a formal wall breaking ceremony was held both in person and virtually to mark the start of demolition. The virtual portion was hosted by Deon Viergutz, FMA Foundation President, who also hosted a round table discussion with Spragg along with former garrison commanders, Retired Col. Brian Foley and Retired Col. Ed Rothstein.


“It’s been a long journey since the idea and need first came to light in 2011,” said Viergutz, “The partnership and fortitude of the Garrison, the Fort Meade Alliance, the FMA Foundation and the community could not have been stronger as we’ve progressed through requirements, design, fundraising and now approval to begin construction.”


“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the mission that goes on here,” Foley said. “We are at war in cyberspace and it is a war that goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s the people who live and work here who are on the frontlines.  The people here may not be getting fired at with kinetic bullets or mortar rounds, but the stresses involved in the non-stop grind of defending our nation still wear on you.”


The renovation project is funded entirely by a gift of $3.6M from the Fort Meade Alliance and the Fort Meade Alliance Foundation. The Alliance raised the money and secured support from key individuals to champion the project through the approval process until gaining final approval from the Secretary of the Army. Supporters included Maryland elected officials like Senator Chris Van Hollen, Senator Ben Cardin, Congressman John Sarbanes, State Senator Pam Beidle, all of whom participated virtually in the wall breaking event. Earlier in the week, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman put on a hard hat and joined in the demolition.


“Boy, that felt good,” said Pittman, after taking up a sledge hammer. “That was the best therapy I’ve had all week.”


“This project has already been recognized as an example of how much can be accomplished when a military installation partners with community groups,” said Spragg. “The Fort Meade Alliance has proven their dedication to the men and women of Fort Meade time and again, and I'm proud to have played a small role in bringing this worthy effort to its final stage.”


In the nine years it took to gain Army approval for the $3.6M gift of this project, a significant number of garrison staff and garrison directorates were involved in ensuring every measure was taken into consideration. Department of Public Works experts ensured the plans met DoD building standards. Others provided the expertise FMA requested to ensure the final outcome would meet the needs of the education, mental health and Fort Meade community needs.


Retired Col. Beverly Maliner, who worked on the center’s planning for years, called the project “a very audacious idea. In the Army, it is very difficult to do a project that has to be sustained over such a long period of time because the population and commanders are rotating so often. To sustain this kind of project, you have to have a champion that keeps it going through transitions of leadership.”


“This is the longest and most complicated project we’ve ever attempted,” said Chad Jones, Fort Meade Public Affairs Officer and director of the garrison’s Community Relations program. “I’m proud of how the entire garrison has come together to get this worthwhile project done. It will serve this community well for many years to come.”


The center will provide onsite classes, counselling and events, but also serve as a hub to connect individuals with services elsewhere on the installation as well as in the surrounding communities. A significant feature is the design of a kiosk system, which links users to services located throughout the Installation as well as to off post sources of support. The kiosk services will add a level of anonymity so that service members will feel more inclined to seek the help they need.


“Some people internalize the stresses and, unfortunately, some people will go to unhealthy habits to decompress,” Spragg said. “We see that manifested in domestic violence, we see that manifested in child abuse, in increased alcohol use and substance abuse, suicidal ideation and suicide itself. We have to figure out a healthy way for people to decompress. The services that [The Fort Meade Education and Resiliency Center] Kuhn Hall will provide gives that to our service members and their families.”


“The goal of this Center is to provide the fullest range of resiliency and education services to positively impact the lives of the military and civilian personnel who work and live on Fort Meade,” said Doreen Harwood, president of the Fort Meade Alliance. “And while it will be a physical building, our goal is that each person who walks through the front door feels they are cared for and supported as a full member of our community.”


Under the terms of the proffer, the FMA Foundation will temporarily take over responsibility for Kuhn Hall for the duration of the construction project with garrison staff providing assistance until completion.


Kuhn Hall, located at 4415 Llewellyn Avenue, is a 9,000-square-foot, WWII era building that was once used as a Distinguished Visitor’s Quarters and has remained largely empty for a number of years. The building is named after Maj. Gen. Joseph Kuhn, who was the first Camp Meade commander and commander of the 79th Infantry Division during WWI. The renovation is expected to take nine to 12 months.