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NEWS | Sept. 30, 2021

Out with the old: NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity Facilities keeps workplace mission ready

By NSWCDD DNA Public Affairs

From replacing old chillers to modernizing existing lab spaces, the Facilities team at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity (NSWCDD DNA) has been busy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic ensuring an improved and a better operating workplace awaits employees upon their return.

The small team is made up of three government employees: the Facilities director, Facilities manager and Safety and Environmental manager. In March 2020, when the pandemic sent most employees home for maximum telework, the Facilities Team—deemed “mission essential” personnel—continued going into the office daily. Responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment, they were charged with maintaining the buildings for personnel whose primary duties require them to work onsite.  

NSWCDD DNA and other military installations in the Mid-Atlantic Region have spent much of the pandemic in Health Protection Condition Charlie, during which less than 25% of the workforce should work onsite on any given day. The Facilities team took full advantage of the mostly-vacant buildings, planning and executing projects large and small while office spaces and conference rooms were unoccupied.

“Several work areas in the command haven’t been addressed in years. Since the facilities manager and I came in daily, it allowed us to work on projects without interruption,” said Rob Peed, director of Facilities at NSWCDD DNA.

When he came onboard in May 2019, Peed reviewed historical building documents and identified issues dating as far back as 2015 that had not been resolved. A major project included replacing several Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) units throughout Hopper Hall, NSWCDD DNA’s main building aboard Dam Neck Annex. Located just 200 yards from the Atlantic Ocean shoreline in Virginia Beach, Hopper Hall and its adjoining buildings contend with moisture and humidity challenges year-round, but especially during the warmer seasons. To date, Facilities has replaced six of the oldest units in Hopper Hall. The new CRAC units are designed to control humidity—a much-needed upgrade in the spaces.

At 26 years of age, Hopper Hall is the youngest of the three buildings. Gallery Hall—the oldest of the three—is 69 years old, and Taylor Hall, which is situated between Hopper and Gallery, is 56 years old.

“Older buildings are extremely difficult to maintain,” Peed said. “Many of the infrastructure systems are beyond expected life cycle, and repairing or replacing those systems is a constant challenge.”

Another challenge was the loss of their service contract shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant the Facilities Team would have to complete the required work with fewer personnel. To overcome this challenge, Peed worked with Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) aboard Naval Air Station Oceana to establish a Memorandum of Understanding that allowed four dedicated staff members to work onsite at DNA. As a result, he was able to obtain an electrician, a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning technician, and two maintenance mechanics.

“Having these NAVFAC staff onsite is invaluable and allows us to bring the facility up to par,” Peed said.

Recently, NAVFAC also awarded a contract for a $28M renovation project for Hopper, Gallery and Taylor Halls. The renovation will enable Facilities to replace the entire fire alarm system and will also include a “Giant Voice” emergency notification system—a significant safety and security upgrade for the command. Additionally, the renovation will include the replacement of several Air Handling Units and outdated electrical systems. All of these projects are set to begin during the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2022.

Dated facilities also make it difficult to maintain high morale, and retain and attract talent, which prompted other upgrades the Facilities Team undertook during the pandemic.

“The Mill Room was in need of sprucing up, so we removed old and unused cabinetry, and we sanded, stained and varnished the table. We also installed new cabinets, countertops, chairs and tables in the main breakroom,” Peed said. “Those renovations were completed mainly to modernize the facilities, and we have a plan in place to refurbish all of our administrative spaces and common areas in the next five to six years.”

During summer 2021, when more employees began returning to work, Facilities continued to provide cleaning and disinfecting products to the workforce. They also adjusted room capacity and sanitization measures to ensure employees returned to a safe and healthy workplace.

“COVID-19 created a unique challenge for NSWCDD DNA and the rest of the Navy, which had to balance the safety of its personnel with mission requirements,” said Cmdr. Michael Aiena, NSWCDD DNA commanding officer. “Asking personnel to come in during a time when there is so much uncertainty is not easy for leaders across the military, but our personnel understand the importance of what we do and are dedicated to the mission.

“Throughout the pandemic, the NSWCDD DNA Facilities Team has ensured we followed all COVID-19 protocols, and provided the equipment and supplies needed to keep themselves and the rest of our workforce safe. They worked tirelessly behind the scenes to not only keep our facilities running smoothly, but to improve them so the workforce will have a better place to come back to. I think I speak for the entire command when I say ‘thank you’ to the team for their dedication and hard work.”