Designing for Defense

Fort Devens Armed Forces Reserve Center
Devens, Massachusetts

If we had to define the main objective of SMMA’s Government Studio, at its most simplistic, it would be this: Provide design solutions that allow those who serve this country to best do their jobs. It is especially gratifying to guide our government clients to successful outcomes—to provide a service for those who dedicate their lives to the service of America. We’ve been fortunate to work on a number of projects for the Federal Government, but few can match the scale, complexity, and time constraints of the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts. 

Setting the precedent as SMMA’s first reserve center project, Fort Devens greatly informed our design methodology on subsequent reserve centers in Vermont, and proved that military buildings are capable of realizing aesthetic ideals while conforming to exacting standards and budgetary limitations.

Saying nothing of the unexpected curveballs we faced along the way, the project, a design-build collaboration with J&J Contractors, presented numerous challenges from the outset. Namely: the size and scale of the work, the fast-track schedule required to meet a non-negotiable completion date, and the environmental factors inherent to the site, as well as the fact that the complex needed to meet the requirements and accommodate the needs of three distinct user groups—the Army Reserve, the Massachusetts Army National Guard, and the Marine Corps Reserve. 

Aerial of Fort Devens

Complexity on Par with Scope

The new Devens campus, at a cost of $77 million, comprises 7 buildings, 55 acres, and 276,000 square feet, making it one of the largest Armed Forces Reserve Centers in the country. To clear space for the new construction, work on the site began by first tearing down an existing building—the largest military facility prior to the construction of the Pentagon. That process was complicated by two factors: first, once on site, we discovered that there were more hazardous materials present in the building than the government had initially anticipated or specified in the scope of work; second, despite the construction activity, Devens needed to remain fully functional during the construction process, requiring careful phasing considerations on the part of the design-build team.

BRAC Funding

The congressionally funded project was spearheaded by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission, which makes recommendations regarding which defense facilities are most in need of modernization and which are no longer suitable and should be closed. Because the project was funded by Congress, its completion date was mandated by Congress—meaning that there was no margin for error or chance for an extension.

Federal and State Code Considerations

SMMA’s Site Design Group was also tested by soil-contamination issues, unforeseen conditions, and unique permitting factors. Portions of the Devens property comprise federal land, which is not subject to local and regional permitting regulations—others fell on state land, which is. On behalf of the client, SMMA obtained so-called “good neighbor” permits from the Devens Enterprise Commission—although not legally required, the military aimed to ingratiate itself with the community, rather than foster an air of resentment.

A by-product of the land being partially federal-owned and partially state-owned was that the buildings on each were subject to different codes. This necessitated a tremendous amount of organizational forethought and planning, to ensure that all requirements and standards were met.

Fort Devens block plan
  • Fort Devens Lobby Design
  • Fort Devens Exterior building design
  • Fort Devens openroom design