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TOKYO — Construction on a $53.7 million housing project for 280 enlisted sailors is under way on Naval Base Guam, according to the base commander.

The construction is part of a larger effort to consolidate ship-based sailors on Guam who now live in older, converted family housing throughout the island, said Capt. Scott Galbreaith.

Eventually, Galbreaith said, leaders hope to have enough single-person housing so that shore-based sailors can live on base as well. Currently, even lower-ranking sailors based at Naval Base Guam must rent housing off base, he said during a phone interview Tuesday.

The new barracks will be the first building on Guam to have “gold” certification through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, Galbreaith said. The building will use solar panels, energy-efficient fixtures and special paints, carpets and flooring to minimize low levels of pollutants, officials said.

The barracks are expected to be completed in spring 2011.

The building is meant to serve current needs and is not part of the long-term military expansion planned for the island, Galbreaith said. The military plans to move 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam in coming years, though some newly elected leaders in Japan have called for a review of the plan.

Sailors from the USS Frank Cable, who now live in converted family housing on the main base, will fill up most of the 280 slots, Galbreaith said. That family housing, damaged by typhoons and earthquakes about a decade ago, will be demolished, he said.

The remaining slots will go to sailors assigned to the three subs at Guam — USS Corpus Christi, USS Buffalo and USS Houston. That will still leave about 160 ship-based sailors and most of the base’s shore-based sailors living in converted family housing or off base. Galbreaith said he hopes construction could begin on another barracks in the next two years.

The cost of the current barracks being built — about $191,000 per living quarter — is part of the challenge of building on Guam, Galbreaith said. The building must be both earthquake- and typhoon-proof. That, along with the cost of transporting materials to Guam, makes the construction price about 2.65 times higher than it would be in middle America, he said.

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