PORTSMOUTH, Va (NNS) -- One of the oldest buildings onboard Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Bldg. M-32, is being renovated to offer modernized office spaces for not only current shipyard employees, but for those way into the future.
M-32 is one of many buildings onboard the shipyard that has a historic charm to it. It may lead people to wonder what the story is behind the building, when and how it came about, and what purpose did it serve and currently serves the shipyard.
In 1906, the shipyard was thriving and growing, but still required a Marine presence. That is where Bldg. M-32 comes in. According to historical documents from 1903, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Thomas Holcomb suggested to the Secretary of the Navy, William H. Moody, the shipyard Marine detachment needed to be expanded to two or three battalions with supporting equipment in storage. If a situation occurred and they were called upon, senior military leadership just knew right where to go in order to get them. In remarks, the commandant stated, "A command of 400 to 600 men can be promptly equipped and be embarked for any destination."
For 72 years, the Marines worked, learned, slept, and guarded the military brig while residing at M-32. Over time, the shipyard's mission changed, which led to the disestablishment of the Marine units onboard the shipyard Sept. 30, 1978.
Since that date, many have worked in M-32. The most recent residents, Code 2380 nuclear engineers, continued to expand their division and quickly realized they needed more space for employees. That request also brought in requests for repairs and upgrades.
In Sept. 2014, NNSY NAVFAC took a hard look at the requests and dire needs of fixing M-32. It soon became a special project and a team was put together to make those changes.
"When we first started looking at M-32 and the cost of the repairs, we knew when we hit a certain monetary value on the renovations and compared it to the costs to repair the building, it made a lot of sense to do one big special project," said Andrew Brown, PWD Portsmouth Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Mid-Lant Architect and Design Manager. "And, we knew from the beginning, following the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFCs), and ensuring the building kept some of its historic characteristics was going to be a challenge. The National Historic Preservation Act guidelines helped define what we could restore and what we could modernize to meet today's Anti-Terrorism Force Protection (ATFP) requirements and guidelines."
"Being a project manager and having worked on various projects across the shipyard, I have been able to bring that experience into the M-32 project," said Brown. "While we have been renovating, we were able to really evaluate the floor space. We are doing what we can to make functional working spaces, improve the quality of life for future employees, and follow the shipyard plan of being green."
One of the ways the shipyard is being green is adding more landscaping, and retention ponds surrounded by marsh grass and vegetation through this project and upcoming projects. These types of ponds are beneficial for the environment and the shipyard because remove toxins from the water before it reaches the rivers, streams, and bays.
Another interesting aspect about M-32 is some of its history and uniqueness. NNSY's historian, Marcus W. Robbins, recently reflected upon M-32's prestigious past. It once faced a large formal parade ground with a large flag pole, had a ceremonial bell (currently in Trophy Park), and it overlooked a nine-hole golf course.
It was also has distinctive red bricks with rounded arches and small towers, has the original U.S. Marine Corps eagle globe and anchor on front of the building, and was home of the military brig.
During construction, workers found personal letters dating back to Oct. 31, 1889; books; magazines; and full-page comic strips that date back to the 1920s. It offers history that is tangible and to some it's noteworthy.
"This building is special to me because I worked in it before renovation, I am the project manager, and when it is completed and certified, I will be one of the lucky ones that can say I am now working in the finished product," said Bill Dezern, Code 985 M-32 Project Manager. "To me, I feel like I am a part of its history. I am looking forward to going back into M-32 and seeing the changes, improved quality of life, and what it offers the shipyard in the near and far future."
M-32 is scheduled to re-open in 2019.
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