USACE begins next phase of SHAPE International School project

Published July 20, 2016
MONS, Belgium — Ten years ago, SHAPE International School was short on space. The school was growing and existing buildings were aging, so NATO members decided it was time to invest in the future and build a new campus.

After a decade of planning and design, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District awarded a $30 million bid-build contract to Galere SA - Wayss & Freytag Ingenieurbau AG in March to construct three new school buildings at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe near Mons.

The project will be executed in phases, according to Mark Workman, the USACE Europe District project manager. The United Kingdom/Canada and German buildings will be constructed first, and are scheduled to open in spring of 2018. Two years later, work is expected to wrap up on the combined school for Norway, Turkey, Poland, and Italy, known as the four-nations building. Lastly, the Belgian school building is in design, and construction will be awarded under a separate contract.

“When all the buildings are complete, they will create an oval-shaped campus with the American elementary and middle schools at one end and the American high school at the other side with a giant courtyard in the middle, where students from all nations can interact,” Workman said.

Children from all over the world — 40 countries including NATO members and Partnership for Peace nations — attend SHAPE, said José Pittellioen, SHAPE International School’s director general.

“We have an average of 2,500 children here, and they are the ambassadors of their countries. They come with what they have — their background, their culture, their knowledge — for the benefit of everyone,” he said. “One of the challenges is to try to integrate them.”

While the school works to integrate students, USACE works to assimilate stakeholders. With seven nations involved in funding the project, this is one of the most unique and complex schools ever executed by the district, Workman said.

“We’ve had to incorporate each country’s individual teaching styles and required room setups into the design,” he said. “Each school layout is different because it has to be tailored to the individual nation’s needs.”

Project stakeholders include the contributing nations, SHAPE, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, USACE and its designer and contractor.
This makes the work very interesting, said Rachel Popp, a Europe District project engineer.

“We are really trying to make sure that the U.K./Canada building, for example, has uniform specifications for classrooms and playgrounds,” she said. “Each nation has its own requirements – the finishes are different, the fire protection is different – so it’s pretty complex.”

When the project was conceived 10 years ago, USACE offered to take the lead and build a campus to replace buildings that have been in use since the 1960s, Pittellioen said.

“The facilities that we use today were built in a hurry,” he said. “When France dropped out of NATO’s integrated military command structure, SHAPE moved from Paris to Belgium in 1967 and the school was built with materials that were prefabricated and semi-prefabricated. At the origin, the buildings were meant to last 10 years, and now they have been here much longer.”

The existing campus had more than a dozen disparate buildings. The Canadian school is housed in a renovated apartment building and the Belgians are in temporary facilities. In its end state, the international campus will include six primary structures, and common gym and cafeteria buildings, U.S. officials said.

In 2014-15, Department of Defense Education Activity-Europe opened new American elementary, middle and high schools at SHAPE. These projects, also managed by USACE, marked the completion of the first phase of this state-of-the-art campus, Workman said.

“We’ve had experience building the American schools and can take those experiences and lessons learned forward with the nations in the international school buildings,” he said. “They are designed to be lighter and brighter and much better learning environments.”
The modernization of SHAPE International School is a major part of improving the entire NATO base. SHAPE school is a microcosm of SHAPE headquarters, Pittellioen said.

“The existence of our school is very important. If we want to attract very competent people to this headquarters, we need to provide adequate support for their families and their children. Our school is one of the reasons people apply for an assignment at SHAPE. Thanks to our school, they come here,” he said.

Before joining USACE, Workman was assigned to SHAPE as an Air Force engineer. During his five years in Mons, he learned that other nations rewarded outstanding officers and enlisted personnel with an assignment at SHAPE. It was one of the few incentives offered to strong performers.

“In the past, the facilities were a negative, rather than a benefit to the assignment,” he said. “Now, not only do they get an assignment in an international community, but their children come and learn, and interact with kids from other nations in beautiful new facilities.

“Both my kids went to SHAPE schools and there really is an international feel when 40 percent of the students in the U.S. schools are non-American. My kids sat in class with Norwegians, Danish and many others – it’s just an experience most others kids will never have.”

After 20 years with the school, Pittellioen looks forward to seeing the facilities complete and bringing all 14 independent schools back onto one campus.

“Our children are here for a limited time and some of them could become important people of influence in their countries — they could serve in the military or be key leaders,” he said. “The challenge is to make sure we all understand and respect each other here. If the students return home sharing our common values, then even at our modest level, we participate in such a way to building peace in the world.”

In August, the demolition of old facilities is set to begin to make space for the final campus buildings.

The project is on track, Pittellioen said.

“This will really be a plus for the entire SHAPE community,” he said.