AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — For those who work in and around one of the world’s largest military construction projects at Aviano, it might seem as if hard hats and cranes have always been there and seemingly always will be.

That’s not really the case. The Aviano 2000 construction project has actually passed the halfway mark on several fronts. In fact, although the last project now is slated to be completed in 2008, one could argue that much of the work the military has to do already is done — or at least under way.

That’s certainly the attitude that Lt. Col. Ken Polasek and most of the team members involved in Aviano 2000 would take.

Polasek, deputy program manager for the $540 million project, said that 76 percent of the money budgeted in the huge project has been spent on construction that is either completed or under way.

Recent openings such as the fitness center have allowed other organizations to start moving around the base to new locations. By the end of the year, the debut of a few more dormitories near the flight line should free up more space on other areas of the geographically separated base.

“The base has done very well in dealing with that whole domino shifting,” Polasek said.

But there’s still a few dominos to set up. And plenty more left to fall.

The second of six new dorms opened a few weeks ago; about 100 airmen who were living on Area 2 moved to the new facilities.

“It’s been a long road, but we’re getting there,” said Pamela Hann, project manager for the four dorms funded by NATO. “We have some serious overcrowding in the [Area 2] dorms, so this will alleviate that.”

The opening of the remaining two NATO dorms scheduled for August also will help with the overcrowding. Two other dorms, intended for single, enlisted airmen, will open in 2004.

Also set to debut in that timeframe are the base’s temporary living quarters — a four-building complex with 100 suites — and visitors quarters, made up of an 80-room complex for those on temporary duty.

Across the street, the base hopes the consolidated club, which is essentially separate clubs for enlisted and officers under one roof, will open before the new year.

“The goal is to have it available for the Christmas season,” Polasek said, adding that he’s not sure that will happen.

In the meantime, other projects are slowly taking shape.

Marc Thomas, the program’s communications project manager, said those who work or visit the flight line will have to get used to some traffic delays and diversions as crews lay in the framework for an updated communications network. The work, headed by the Montservis Praha company from the Czech Republic, is expected to last through the end of 2004. Workers are laying pipes — alongside similar infrastructure upgrades for natural gas — that will house a system of cables that will bring smiles to members of the 31st Communications Squadron and eventually to those who work on base by giving them a faster, more reliable communications system.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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