Letterkenny project is ‘model for public-private partnership’
CHAMBERSBURG — A building the size of a “big box” warehouse is planned for private land adjacent to Letterkenny Army Depot.
Local development officials are working with the depot to build a 700,000-square-foot building that would consolidate the Army operations currently located outside the Letterkenny fence.
Building 9900 promises modern workspace and security for those depot operations, according to L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. The construction would cost less than a typical military construction project and would reduce what the depot spends to lease buildings.
The project requires the coordination of local, state and federal agencies.
“It’s a project being advanced as a model for public-private partnership,” said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. “There are very few examples where the Army has been able to create a new facility on private property where the owner is building it and securing the property.”
Letterkenny, with about 3,600 workers, is one of the largest employers in Franklin County. The depot’s pays workers from the county more than $340 million annually. The statewide impact of its payroll and contracts tops $2 billion a year.
Letterkenny pays about $7 million a year to lease a series of 90,000-square-foot World-War-II-era warehouses in the Cumberland Valley Business Park, Ross said. The wood-timber and brick buildings are used for production and storage. They are marginally secure and have low ceilings.
The spacious Building 9900 would be built on privately-owned ground adjacent to the depot, according to Ross. It could be accessed only after entering Letterkenny’s guarded gates. A fence would secure the perimenter.
The project will require congressional approval of a long-term lease, according to Ross.
But the project would not have to wait its turn on the Military Construction Program, according to Ross. Congress approves projects on the MILCON budget, and the competitive process can take years.
The public-private project at Letterkenny could be done at a fraction of the cost of a typical MILCON project, Ross said.
The project is winding its way through the Army bureaucracy.
“If we’re successful in getting the approval through the chain of command, the actual construction will commence very quickly.” Ross said. “Will there be a building in 2019? Probably not. Could there be a building toward the end of 2020? I think that’s absolutely possible.”
The Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority is working with a private developer to construct the building in a Keystone Opportunity Zone. The KOZ program eliminates certain state and local taxes to encourage the development of difficult-to-develop areas.
The land had been part of Letterkenny prior to the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission decision that returned more than 1,000 acres of the Army depot to the community. Over the years Letterkenny has reclaimed the use of many of the buildings now in private hands.
LIDA has created the business park on the former Letterkenny land.
LIDA would sell the land for the proposed building. The potential buyers are exploring a deal with the Army, according to LIDA Executive Director John Van Horn. Discussions have been going on for more than a year.
LIDA has experience with a similar, but smaller project, according to Van Horn. LIDA built a 40,000-square-foot building on speculation. The Army is preparing to move into it. LIDA modified the building by adding loading docks. The Army built a fence and beefed up security.
By using private property, the Army can adjust to surging demand during wars and shrinking demand during peacetime, according to Van Horn. The Army’s need for property changes as its production changes.
If the Army no longer needs the proposed building, the Army can back out of it and someone else can use the warehouse, Van Horn said.
From time to time the Pentagon and Congress consider downsizing military installations to save money. BRAC has been the instrument of choice. Letterkenny’s fortunes have fallen and risen with the decisions of the independent commission.
BRAC considers first and foremost the military value of an installation, Ross said. Building 9900 would increase the military value of Letterkenny.
Workers at Letterkenny manufacture, refurbish, maintain and store components for the military’s tactical missile air defense systems. The Patriot anti-missile system is the best known. Four of the installation’s 10 Shingo medallions have been for Patriot work. The Shingo Award is considered the Nobel Prize for manufacturing.
Letterkenny also produces ground-mobility-vehicle versions of the Humvee, MRAP route-clearance vehicles, power generators, tent cities, material-handling equipment, Sentinel 3-D radars and a variety of other missile systems – TOW (tube-launched optically tracked wire-grounded anti-tank missile), Javelin, Avenger, HIMARS (high-mobility artillery rocket system).