North Versailles center for Marines moving near airport, Pentagon says

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WASHINGTON — Hundreds of Marine reservists could leave their North Versailles training center for a bigger, more modern and more structurally sound facility in Findlay near Pittsburgh International Airport.

The Pentagon set aside $17.6 million in its $6.6 billion military construction budget. The first step toward approval could come this week as the House is expected to take up the bill.

Col. Bart Pester, assistant chief of staff for Marine Corps Reserves facilities, said the facility is already being designed and he is confident funding will come.

"The project is on track. Everything is solid and this is one of the Marine Corps' top priority projects to fund, so we see no issues," he said.

The 60,000-square-foot facility would house an armory, an assembly hall, a simulated marksmanship training area, classrooms, offices, workshops, locker rooms and medical exam rooms. The project also calls for construction of a steel-framed vehicle maintenance facility, a covered training area and a parking lot with 400 spaces.

The 186-acre property is owned by the Army and will be transferred to the Marines.

The site would be home base for about 350 reservists and 30 active Marines with infantry, surgical and law enforcement missions.

It will be a big improvement, Mr. Pester said.

The current facility makes it difficult to conduct field training and provide marksmanship practice, he said.

Often reservists spend much of their training weekends traveling to Fort Indiantown Gap and other bases with room to train, Mr. Pester said.

"Now they'll be able to go right outside the center, practice different exercises and go through scenarios," he said.

The new building will have a high-tech shooting range that uses projectors, video game technology and simulated weapons that provide realistic recoil.

During construction, the Marines and reservists will remain at the North Versailles facility, which is about to get a bit roomier. They currently share the facility with 300 Navy reservists who are moving in June to a new support facility of their own in Moon.

The North Versailles facility is inefficient and is built on top of an abandoned mine and is sinking, according to documents supporting the Pentagon's military construction budget request. The foundation is cracking, and windows are inoperable.

The move could bolster the Western Pennsylvania congressional delegation's arguments to retain the 911th Airlift Wing, which is based at Pittsburgh International Airport. The base has been under threat of closure for years under various Air Force realignment and cost-savings plans.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., have been working for years to stave off the continual threats. Moving the two reserve bases closer to the 911th will help, they said in separate interviews Monday.

"This helps each branch when the military starts asking which groups have not been very active," said Mr. Murphy. "This adds to their resume of what they're doing."

Mr. Casey agreed.

"The assets are significant individually, but the combination of them strengthens the argument for maintaining them and strengthening," he said.

Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: 1-703-996-9292 or or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.

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