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Corps’ Military Programs director for Interagency, International Services tours Southern California Veterans Affairs’ projects

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District
Published March 4, 2022
Jenn Rivo, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District’s Mega Projects Division, Department of Veterans Affairs Branch, talks to leaders from the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Veterans Affairs during a Feb. 23 site visit to construction areas at the VA San Diego Healthcare System in La Jolla, California.

Jenn Rivo, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District’s Mega Projects Division, Department of Veterans Affairs Branch, talks to leaders from the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Veterans Affairs during a Feb. 23 site visit to construction areas at the VA San Diego Healthcare System in La Jolla, California.

LOS ANGELES – The director of Military Programs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Interagency and International Services traveled to Southern California Feb. 23 and 24 to meet with representatives working on three different Veterans Affairs projects. The projects are managed by the Corps’ Los Angeles District.

Dr. Christine Altendorf met Feb. 23 with leaders and project managers working on the new Spinal Cord Injury/Community Living Center building and adjacent parking structure at the San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center in La Jolla, California.

She was joined by other leaders, including Bryan Truesdell, acting chief of Interagency and International Services; Col. Antoinette Gant, commander of the Corps’ South Pacific Division; Col. Julie Balten, commander of the Corps’ Los Angeles District; and Dr. Michael Brennan, executive director of Construction and Facilities Management, Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Spinal Cord Injury and Community Living Center, which had a groundbreaking ceremony June 16 and is projected to open in fall 2024, will provide care to veterans and active-duty personnel with spinal cord injuries and disorders, who live in the San Diego and Imperial counties in California, and in Arizona and southern Nevada.

The new facility, which is replacing the current building at the San Diego VAMC, will be a 197,000-square-foot, four-story standalone structure. The current center is one of 25 spinal cord injury and disorder facilities at VA centers throughout the U.S. Each center has highly trained and experienced providers, including doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, psychologists and others, who deal with the unique problems that affect those with spinal cord injuries or disorders.

Altendorf said the key to ensuring the project is a success is maintaining strong relationships and collaboration among the project stakeholders.

“We’ve got some hurdles to get through as we continue to work our different cultures between USACE and the VA, but it all boils down to relationships, partnering and collaboration – and everyone keeping in mind the final product and who this is for in mind,” Altendorf said. “There’s a lot of different partners and a lot of different stakeholders. We just have to keep the end game in mind – and the end game is making sure we have the right facilities for our veterans.”

The site visit was an opportunity for leaders from the Corps and the VA not only to see the construction progress, but to talk through challenges, said Jennifer Rivo, project manager with the Corps LA District’s Mega Projects Division, Department of Veterans Affairs Branch. These challenges include working within a constrained construction area with minimal impact to hospital operations and veterans’ access, as well as ensuring all organizations working on the project are using the established formal lines of communication.

“There’s multiple parties that we’re working with here, so sometimes it can be a little confusing as to who should be talking to whom about what, and that ties into roles and responsibilities,” she said. “That said, I want to highlight that the communication here has gone really well with the VA and all of our partners, but we’re always trying to improve the way we communicate. It’s a huge focus for us.”

Altendorf said the Corps of Engineers has identified the San Diego VA project as one it would like to emulate for other projects.

“We also understand it’s only 5 percent complete, so there may be potential challenges to come, but so far, so good,” she said. “What we really focused on quite a bit, though, are some challenges we have at Long Beach (VA), a project that is further along. We were able to take lessons learned from some of the hurdles at Long Beach and use them here to better become a learning organization and use best practices.”

“It’s been fantastic for Dr. Altendorf to visit the Los Angeles District, especially our VA program,” said Col. Julie Balten. “We have one of the largest programs in the entire enterprise for the VA, with both Long Beach and San Diego, and soon, Greater Los Angeles.

“It’s very important that we continue to partner with (Construction and Facilities Management) and the VA, so it’s great the CFM leadership is here also to meet with Dr. Altendorf and see our programs and how we better communicate and better partner to deliver them. If we’re successful, then they’re successful. Really, the end users are veterans, who get these incredible facilities that they deserve. That’s really the end goal: to be able to turn over these quality facilities to our veterans.”

 

LONG BEACH AND GREATER LOS ANGELES VA

Altendorf continued her LA District visit Feb. 24, as she headed to the VA Long Beach Healthcare System. The Corps’ LA District is completing mental health in-patient and outpatient facilities, as well as a Community Living Center on the campus.

There, she met with LA District program managers, along with senior LA District and VA leaders, offering guidance and support to keep the project running smoothly and efficiently. Altendorf also was joined by Dr. Christopher Castle, VA associate executive director, Office of Facilities Planning.

The meeting was followed by a tour of the busy job site, consisting of three structures being built for veteran’s mental health care needs. The first was a walkthrough of the mental health inpatient/outpatient facilities – two large, state-of-the-art structures on the VA Long Beach campus nearing completion. Both buildings are intended to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED-certified, silver or better upon completion.

She then toured the Community Living Center, noting its progress, while being briefed on updates to the project by managers, engineers and construction personnel.

“We’ve been working some challenges and issues with this project for several months … and so it was good to have our partners, which are (Construction and Facilities Management) and Veterans Affairs (Construction and Facilities Management) altogether at the table and really putting our pencils to the paper … figuring out how to move forward, and, ultimately, doing what’s right for our veterans,” Altendorf said.

Both the two-story, 80,000-plus-square-foot mental health facilities are more than 50 percent complete, while the three-story, 181,000-thousand-square-foot Community Living Center is more than a quarter complete.

The single building that currently houses mental health services and the Community Living Center for VA Long Beach Healthcare System patients is scheduled for demolition after the replacement facilities are fully operational.

Focusing on taking care of the nation’s veterans by constructing these facilities at the VA is a top priority, Gant said. The VA Long Beach Healthcare System serves more than 50,000 veterans.

“In the end, this is all about the veterans and making sure we have a place where our veterans can be able to feel safe and get the support that they actually need, and to know the Corps of Engineers has been a part of that,” she said. “It’s absolutely fabulous, and I’m so happy that I can be a part of that as well.”

Following the visits to both VA healthcare system projects in Long Beach and San Diego, Altendorf and the team met with leaders at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System to go over upcoming plans for project work there as well.