Designing for Defense

Fort Devens Armed Forces Reserve Center
Devens, Massachusetts

SMMA was awarded the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Fort Devens as a design-build collaboration with J&J Contractors. The firm has been fortunate to work on several projects for the Federal Government, but few match the scale and complexity of this facility. Saying nothing of the unexpected curveballs the team faced along the way, the project presented numerous challenges from the outset, from the scale of the work to the fast-track schedule required to meet a non-negotiable completion date, and the environmental factors inherent to the site. As well, 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.

Setting a precedent as SMMA’s first-ever 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.  
Aerial of Fort Devens

Complexity on Par with Scope

The new campus is comprised of seven buildings on 55 acres of land, totaling 276,000 square feet, making it one of the largest Armed Forces Reserve Centers in the country. The campus includes a training facility, classrooms, assembly hall, unheated and heated storage bays, as well as a covered wash rack. To clear space for the new construction, work on the site began by first tearing down an existing building, which had been the largest military facility prior to the construction of the Pentagon. 

Two factors complicated the process of tearing down the previous building. Once on-site, our team discovered that there were more hazardous materials present in the building than the government had initially anticipated or specified in the scope of work. Despite the construction activity, Ft. Devens needed to remain fully functional, 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. When a project is funded by Congress, its completion date is mandated by Congress. As a result, this left no margin for error or chance for an extension.


Federal and State Code Considerations

SMMA’s Site Design Group encountered soil-contamination issues, unforeseen conditions, and unique permitting factors. Portions of the Ft. Devens property include federal land, which is not subject to local and regional permitting regulations. To further complicate things, part of the property falls on state land, which is subject to greater regulation. On behalf of the client, SMMA obtained “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