Self-Help Pays Off for Unaccompanied Housing at Great Lakes

Naval Station Great Lakes Public Affairs
Story by John Sheppard

Date: 10.07.2019
Posted: 10.07.2019 15:20
News ID: 346394

GREAT LAKES, Ill. (October 7, 2019) – Saving sustainment dollars for the U.S. Navy and the American taxpayer is what drives the self-help spirit at Unaccompanied Housing (UH) at Naval Station Great Lakes.

“The difference between the building managers here and the building managers on other installations is my guys actually turn screwdrivers. The model elsewhere is that building managers submit tickets. They make reports of a deficiency, and they make a call, they submit work orders to get these things fixed. And then they sit back and they wait,” said Mike Landry, UH Director, originally from Meriden, Conn. “We have never really done that.”

“Our self-help program wasn’t anything I directed or the CO directed. It was Jeff Gillan, Billy Learsch and Dave Klepzig who said, ‘Let’s try this,’” said Landry. The three building managers work in the 800 barracks, built in 1999, which house 1,855 student-Sailors from Training Support Center (TSC) Great Lakes.

“We are doing self-help initiatives rather than calling for help on everything,” said Landry. “My building managers, particularly on the main side, do what we call ‘self-help.’ They take the initiative to take out light bulbs, instead of putting in work orders. We unclog drains, pipes. We install wainscoting to preserve the wall from damage from students. That saves hundreds of thousands of dollars for the seven 800 barracks over the course of a year.”

Prior to coming to Great Lakes, Building Manager Billy Learsch of Winthrop Harbor, Ill. was a telecommunications engineer. “I built cell phone towers across the United States. Much of that correlates over to this. Prior to that, I used to own my own construction company. A home remodeling company,” said Learsch.

Lead Building Manager Jeff Gillan of Dupo, Ill. was director of operations for a building maintenance company prior to joining the military. Gillan decided to join the Navy when he was 24 and served for 24 years, retiring as a Chief Engineman. “My last tour was here, running the barracks. I took off my uniform, put on civilian clothes and got right back to work,” said Gillan. He has been running the 800 barracks for a little over six and a half years.

TSC Complex Manager Dave Klepzig of Barrington, Ill. served in the Navy for 20 years as an Aviation Support Equipment Technician. Prior to the military, Klepzig had two years of college in architecture. “I have a lot of knowledge in building construction,” Klepzig noted.

Landry served for 20 years in the Navy. He started as enlisted Culinary Specialist and retired as a Chief Warrant Officer in the Supply Corps. “I was retired for one month and I was hired back here on base to be the UH Operations Manager,” said Landry.

The UH program at Naval Station Great Lakes is the largest in the Navy. Landry is ultimately responsible for the repair and maintenance of 37 active barracks at Naval Station Great Lakes. The barracks encompass over 3.2 million square feet and have a total capacity of 20,320 beds.

At Recruit Training Command (RTC), the Navy’s only boot camp, the 14 barracks there can house up to 14,280 recruits. “We are anticipated to top out at a little over 9,200 recruits this year,” said Landry.

At TSC, there are 19 barracks with the capacity to house 5,575 students. “We typically run into the 65 to 75 percent occupancy rate, which equates to a little over 4,000 students per month,” said Landry. “We are predicted to top out at 90 percent this year because of the increase in RTC accessions.”

Permanent party housing has the capability of housing 476 Sailors in six barracks.

Currently, 43 civilian employees work at UH along with five military. “There are seven building managers on recruit side. There are 14 building managers on main side,” said Landry.

The oldest TSC barracks were erected in 1971 and the newest TSC barracks, MILCON P714, will add 616 beds to the inventory at a cost of $76 million in 2020.

With so many Sailors living in the barracks, ordinary problems can cost extraordinary amounts of money.

“We were encountering a problem where there were a lot of drains that were getting clogged by hair and debris,” said Landry. “It was costing us a lot of sustainment funds that we couldn’t use elsewhere. It was depleting the funds that we have for maintenance. And so they (Gillan, Learsch and Klepzig) were thinking out loud, started bouncing ideas off of each other, and came up with a couple of really great ideas. One was a hair salon drain trap. We literally bought those from a hair salon supply company. Great Lakes AIB Servmart worked with us to go out and procure these parts. They also found what we call a ‘tub ‘schroom.’ We screw that into the drain of a bathtub and it prevents hair from going down the drain.”
After these simple and inexpensive measures were procured and installed by UH staff, the frequency of work requests related to drain pipes and drains being clogged dropped by 80 percent.

“These guys are thinking and doing things to save money and to save time,” said Landry. “We got a lot of accolades during our recent housing assessment.”

Klepzig talked about changing out the light bulbs in the buildings he manages from standard bulbs to LED bulbs. “The first year there was a cost for what we spent on the new lights,” Klepzig said.

“A little bit pricey on the front side,” noted Landry. “But when you factor in the savings per building per year of $8,800 and multiply that times seven, then times ten… we’re talking some huge amount of money.” Each of the LED light bulbs has a ten-year lifespan.

“We changed hundreds of bulbs a month with the old style of light,” said Learsch. “And that was labor intensive. Since we installed these LED lights, I have not replaced one light bulb.”

“All of the money we save goes to projects in UH,” said Landry. “Also, every other command on base benefits from that, because that money we saved also goes into their buildings.”

“Now if we get into a project and we get into and say, ‘hey, we can’t do this.’ We don’t have the tooling or maybe even the knowledge to do it, that’s when we’ll send that over to NAVFAC (Naval Facilities Engineering Command). We’re not going to jump into something we’re not familiar with,” said Gillan.

“If it’s a small scope of work, we just take care of it,” added Learsch.
“There is a sense of pride and ownership in UH, in how they take care of the buildings,” said Capt. Ray Leung, Naval Station Great Lakes Commanding Officer. “One thing that most people don’t realize is that we have a winning team.”

Landry said that it is about hiring the right people for the job. “Most of the guys who work for me have some basic engineering background. We have made it a point to hire people that tend to gravitate with skills toward that position. I can’t do any of the work they do, but my job is to advocate for them, to get money, personnel, parts, and we’re good at it here,” he said.

Landry is impressed by the support he receives from higher headquarters. “We get 100 percent support from Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. They’ve supported almost everything we have requested,” he said.

Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic is the regional coordinator for all shore-based naval personnel and shore activities in the Mid-Atlantic region, which encompasses 20 states, 14 installations including Naval Station Great Lakes, and 50 Naval Operational Support Centers (NOSCs).

Naval Station Great Lakes is the Navy’s largest training installation and the home of the Navy’s only boot camp. Located on over 1,600 acres overlooking Lake Michigan, the installation includes 1,153 buildings with 39 on the National Register of Historic Places. Naval Station Great Lakes supports over 50 tenant commands and elements as well as over 20,000 service members and Department of Defense civilians who live and work on the installation.