ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Every workday for 18 months, sweating workers have hefted 5,500 bulky cardboard boxes from tractor-trailers and slipped them, one by one, onto tall steel shelves.
The last box arrives Tuesday.
“It’s been a lot of lifting,” said Bryan McGraw, director of the new National Personnel Records Center on Dunn Road, just east of Highway 367.
The $115 million center was built primarily to replace the towering, block-long center at 9700 Page Avenue in Overland that formerly housed the nation’s military personnel records. That building now is empty, and the last shipments to the new center are files of federal civilian employees from a warehouse at 111 Winnebago Street in south St. Louis.
The new building was dedicated in October 2011, but the move had begun five months before. When that work ends Tuesday, the center will hold about 100 million individual files, 57 million of them of military personnel. They’re stored in 4.2 million cardboard cartons, stacked on shelves 29 rows high in 15 warehouse bays.
The military records date to 1841, and the oldest civilian file is from 1821.
The center’s 700 workers primarily process requests from veterans and families for military records, usually to verify veterans benefits. The center also has a public research room on the ground floor.
The old center in Overland was built in 1956. On July 12, 1973, a fire on the top floor destroyed or damaged the files of about 22 million Army veterans from 1912 to 1959 and Air Force veterans from 1947 to 1963. About 70 of the new center’s employees still work to preserve the 6.5 million damaged files.
The government decided to build the new building after the Pentagon announced a force realignment in 2005, which moved many military personnel from the Overland location. The main building on Page is slated for demolition.
Molasky Group of Las Vegas built the new center and is leasing it to the government for about $9.2 million annually. McGraw, the director, said it cost about $4.6 million to move the records from Overland, the warehouse on Winnebago and several smaller locations.
Workers for Graebel Van Lines of Earth City handled most of the moving. McGraw said the total came to 4,200 tractor-trailer loads of file cartons.
He said the lengthy move ran over the original schedule by a month, mainly because of slowdowns during the heat wave this past summer. The new building has air conditioning, but the old one in Overland doesn’t.
McGraw said the new building’s 276,000 square feet of storage space will be sufficient because all military branches except the Coast Guard now keep personnel files on electronic records. The center will continue serving requests for information, he said.
McGraw said the last box is scheduled to be fitted into place at 8 a.m. Tuesday.