Air Force Academy foyer costs reach $387,000; academy says it can't release explanation

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Air Force and Navy F-35 Lightnings fly over the Air Force Academy on Oct. 1, 2016.  David Salanitri/U.S. Air Force
Air Force and Navy F-35 Lightnings fly over the Air Force Academy on Oct. 1, 2016. David Salanitri/U.S. Air Force

Air Force Academy foyer costs reach $387,000; academy says it can't release explanation

by: Tom Roeder, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) (Tribune News Service) | .
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published: January 17, 2017

The Air Force Academy remodeled the foyer outside Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson's office in a project that finished this month.

New wall coverings and carpet came with fresh ceiling tiles, efficient lighting, a couple of chairs and a big price tag: $387,000.

That's enough to buy 190 500-pound bombs or pay the annual clothing allowance for 1,560 airmen.

The academy says the price is normal for the school where renovation work has been constant in recent years.

"Every year, we follow an Air Force process to evaluate facility and infrastructure requirements, establish priorities and forward those to the Air Force for funding support," academy spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Heritage said. "Our approach, 'worst first,' has allowed us to repair significant levels of infrastructure and repair key facilities such as two major bridges, one cadet dorm, cadet dining facility, cadet gymnasium, miles of roads, and roofs, and mechanical and electrical systems in many different facilities."

The superintendent's foyer made the list of the academy's worst spaces because of scratched wall coverings and aging carpet, Heritage said.

The space was last addressed a decade ago when Harmon Hall underwent a $19 million renovation that included gutting the building and replacing its interior. Heritage said the decor of the foyer wasn't addressed in that project.

"The wall coverings and ceiling had exceeded their useful life," he said.

In the makeover, the 1,480-square-foot foyer got metal wall coverings, modernistic chairs, a ceiling that includes mahogany panels and recessed lights and a light gray carpet.

About $16,000 of the cost was used to address fire code concerns, Heritage said.

It's unclear how the rest of the money was spent. The academy said it couldn't release a detailed cost list because that would reveal trade secrets of the academy's contractors. Heritage didn't offer a direct explanation of the cost but said it was approved by a committee and the Pentagon.

The foyer's renovation cost, at more than $261 per square foot, is more than the $257 per square foot spent on the school's new cyberspace training center CyberWorx, which included the installation of a sensitive compartmentalized information facility - a secure room where computers connected to the military's top secret network may be used.

It's just less than the $267 per square foot spent on the multiyear renovation of Mitchell Hall, which included installing a kitchen, freezers and refrigerators to feed 4,000 cadets.

According to a recent report from Quantum Commercial Group in Colorado Springs, the cost to construct a commercial building in the region runs between $220 and $260 per square foot. According to the website BuildingJournal.com, average commercial renovation costs in Colorado Springs run about $110 per square foot - about $150 per square foot less than what was spent on Johnson's foyer.

Harmon Hall, the academy's headquarters building, has been targeted for several projects in recent years. Last year, $188,000 was spent on remodeling the school's public affairs office. The admissions office got a $144,000 renovation.

The superintendent's foyer got special attention because the three-star general attracts a lot of guests, Heritage said.

"That space sees 800 or more distinguished visitors per year," Heritage said.

Commercial real estate broker and former Colorado Springs City Councilman Tim Leigh initially expressed shock at the price of the foyer work - which at $387,000 was about $130,000 above the average home price in the Pikes Peak region.

But Leigh said the role of the room as the gateway to Johnson probably has a lot to do with the cost.

"She's the CEO of a very large corporation," he said. "It's probably commensurate with that."

Leigh said costs of $250 per square foot for renovations aren't unheard of, especially in the realm of high-end medical offices.

But it's still a big bite of taxpayer cash.

"All things being equal, it's probably a little excessive," he said.

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©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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