RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — It may seem like there’s scarcely an inch of Ramstein that’s not under construction, but this week workers break ground on one of the largest projects yet.

Work officially begins Thursday on a 235,000-square-foot freight terminal designed to help airmen store and load tons of cargo onto waiting aircraft. The larger space is needed when operations at Rhein-Main Air Base move to Ramstein in December 2005.

The $26.5 million freight terminal, which will rise west of Ramstein’s new passenger terminal, will double the space currently being used by the 723rd Air Mobility Squadron, said Larry Orlando, who is in charge of the Rhein-Main transition.

“It’s a very large project with a lot of pieces to it,” Orlando said.

A groundbreaking ceremony takes place at 1 p.m. Thursday at the site. Workers already have cleared the area of trees and are leveling the ground. The building is scheduled for completion in October 2004.

One of the most prized parts of the new terminal will be its so-called Mechanized Materiel Handling System. The computerized system organizes pallet loads of cargo while in storage and delivers the pallets to waiting airmen in the order they must be loaded onto aircraft, said Capt. Andrew Jones, the 723rd’s combat readiness and resources officer.

The terminal will consolidate squadron offices and will have a hazardous material storage area and an outside area for parking and pallet storage. It is supposed to be architecturally compatible with the new passenger terminal, the glass-fronted building shaped like a Stealth fighter. The freight terminal, however, will skip the glass and blend the muted colors and metal façade work in its design, Orlando said.

The new freight terminal is among a flurry of construction projects around the air base, including the realignment of the major cross-base road.

Other projects under construction include:

An $8.2 million dormitory, including an underground parking lot.A munitions storage facility.A new headquarters building for the 721st Air Mobility Operations Group.In addition, several projects are planned, including the $132 million Kaiserslautern Community Center, a complex full of retail and food stores, movie theaters and other leisure services. The center is supposed to open in 2006.

And bids soon will be sought for an addition to the new passenger terminal and a new fleet services building and in-flight kitchen.

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