COLUMBIA -- About $1 billion worth of construction projects are under way or planned at Midlands military bases.
The biggest chunk, some $800 million, is for a dozen projects at Columbia's Fort Jackson, the Army's largest training center.
The military spending should boost the local economy, said Ike McLeese, president of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
"This new construction will bring jobs and capital expenditures to our community at a most welcome time," McLeese said.
At Fort Jackson, the money includes buildings for two military missions that were moved to the post by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, commonly called BRAC.
A third new mission for the post, an Army Reserve command, opened its new 80,000-square-foot, $18 million headquarters last summer.
About $170 million also will be spent at Shaw Air Force Base as the Sumter installation prepares for the BRAC-related arrival of 3rd Army headquarters in the fall of 2011.
The Midlands' third military installation, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, also has BRAC-related work under way after the S.C. Air National Guard was assigned to train about 150 junior airmen and pilots.
While the spending at McEntire pales in comparison to Fort Jackson and Shaw, workers recently completed a $1.8 million expansion and renovation of that base's operations center. Another $1.1 million is slated for a gym that will be used by pilots and airmen, a spokesman said.
Although millions of dollars are being spent on bricks and mortar, local officials aren't taking the future of their local bases for granted.
Both Columbia and Sumter, as well as the state, have ongoing efforts to enhance relationships with the Pentagon and to bolster their bases.
At the same time, the communities are tackling issues such as encroaching business and housing developments, which could restrict future expansion and hamper base operations.
"The partnering of the business community, military and state and local governments will be critical to the effective execution of a long-range strategy that will benefit all for many years to come," said George Patrick III, executive coordinator of the S.C. Military Base Task Force.
Keeping and expanding military bases makes good business sense for the local communities, according to various studies.
The annual economic impact of Fort Jackson is $2.6 billion and $1.1 billion for Shaw, according to a state government study.
In Sumter County, the air base is a major employer, accounting for $1 of every $4 of income.
While the community benefits, there's a payoff for the military, said Joe McElveen, Sumter mayor.
"Every community and state with a military presence generates cheerleaders for funding of the military mission," McElveen said in an e-mail.
Housing a priority
In the office of Col. Lillian Dixon, garrison commander at Fort Jackson, there's a color-coded map of the cantonment area. It shows the location of barracks, offices, unit headquarters and various training schools.
The most prevalent color is purple, signifying projects under construction and planned.
Right now, workers are building a 45,000-square-foot, $11 million expansion of the Army Chaplain School.
Sometime in 2010, the building will house the Joint Center of Excellence for Religion Training and Education. There, chaplains for all the U.S. military services will be trained, one of the missions moved to the post as part of the 2005 BRAC.
About a block away, workers are building the new Consolidated Drill Sergeants School, a $24 million, 145,000-square-foot structure, another piece of BRAC.
The Army began training all drill sergeants at Fort Jackson shortly after the BRAC announcement. The soldiers, though, have been training and living in existing facilities.
Not everything being built at Fort Jackson is related to BRAC.
For example, a $32 million barracks renovation, scheduled to be completed sometime in 2010, is in progress, and a $50 million expansion for an advanced training school also is under way.
One of the biggest chunks of construction money is being poured into new housing for families, Dixon said. About $165 million will be spent on the first phase, which will take six years to complete.
The project, a joint venture involving the Army and a private developer, calls for replacing 1,162 housing units, Dixon said.
A portion of existing housing units will be renovated. The rest -- 916 -- will be torn down, she said. The first phase calls for 610 new and 240 renovated units.