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There Are a Few Holes in Plans for Marine Town : Construction: Architects and contractors are being challenged to create a battle-scarred urban landscape that is sturdy enough to function as a training ground for Camp Pendleton troops.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The spanking new town that soon will rise on a 27-acre tract near Aliso Creek on Camp Pendleton should look like it’s been through the wars.

The new hotel will be badly damaged by bombs dropped from an attack aircraft. Half of a nearby apartment building will be gone, destroyed by rockets. A townhouse will be ripped in half by rounds fired by a tank. An exterior wall and several interior walls in a multistory office building will be destroyed by artillery shells.

But shells and rockets won’t be responsible for destruction in the as-yet unnamed town. Rather, the 30 buildings will be a manufactured--some say in an almost Disney-like fashion--replica of what U.S. Marines encountered when they entered war-torn towns and villages in Grenada, Panama City and Kuwait.

The $5- to $10-million town at Pendleton is one of three urban combat training facilities the Marines are building at bases in the United States. The Marines last year dedicated a similar facility at Camp LeJeune, N.C. A third urban combat training facility will be built at Quantico, Va.

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Soltek of San Diego, a local contracting firm, was the low bidder on the project, with a $6.5-million bid. A contract will be awarded later this year. Soltek handles civilian and government building projects.

The combat town’s function as a training facility is straightforward, but the project is ripe with contradictions for the architects and contractors who hope to build it.

“We’re taught to build things complete, and here we are trying to build buildings with holes in them,” said Chuck Soulant, a senior cost estimator for San Diego-based Ninteman Construction, which bid on the project. “It’s almost like you’re being asked to build something for Disneyland.”

“This was unusual,” said Steve Wilner, chief estimator for Soltek. “But the architects did a good job of drawing what they wanted . . . (down to) the holes in the walls and the roughened slabs from bomb blasts.”

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Marine instructors will use the eerily realistic facilities to teach troops tactics needed to survive in the gritty world of urban warfare. The need for increased urban combat training became apparent during the 1989 Panama invasion, when more than 200 Panamanian civilians died as U.S. troops fought to dislodge firmly entrenched urban guerrillas.

The newest generation of urban combat training facilities evolved from simpler teaching tools created during the Vietnam War. Then, Marines on training exercises entered villages consisting of thatched huts.

Recent experiences in Grenada, Panama, Beruit and Kuwait City emphasize the need for urban combat training, said Chief Warrant Officer Randy Gaddo, adding, “We’re moving away from jungle wars.”

Many of the structures will appear on the verge of collapse, they will meet building codes and withstand constant pounding by thousands of Leathernecks.

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In addition to realism, the Marines are placing a premium on safety, said Neil Larsen, a former artillery officer and a principal with Architects/Larsen/Carpenter, the San Diego-based firm that was awarded the contract to design the village.

Handrails will be installed to help break the fall of soldiers who slip while scaling sloped roofs on multistoried buildings.

Upper-story floors near walls that have been “destroyed” by artillery shells or bombs will be finished in rough-textured concrete to alert Marines that “their next step might be out into the air,” Larsen said. “We don’t want some soldier who’s just had the heck scared out of him accidently falling three stories.”

Architects won’t be able to keep snakes out of the buildings but “critter traps” should limit the number of four-legged pests, Larsen said.

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Still, the carefully planned village will be a “scary place to try and take over,” Larsen said.

The buildings will incorporate devious “mouse holes,” trap doors that enemy soldiers can use to travel between floors. Enemy forces also will be able to hide in stairwells and elevator shafts.

The town will look like a typical American town, but its layout is designed to prepare troops for action in a European village, a Central American town or a Pacific Rim city.

Although the Marines prescribed the desired level of destruction, it was up to the architects to create the blueprints.

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“I drew heavily upon my experience of watching World War II movies late at night,” quipped Ron Rogers, a senior project architect with Architects/Larsen/Carpenter. “I thought, ‘Imagine what a building would look like if a shell exploded’ . . . . Maybe the floor slab would (be destroyed) and the walls would go out at a 45-degree angle.”

Architects eventually developed nine distinct “rubble types” that will be incorporated, alone or in groups, into walls, ceilings and floors. One rubble pattern mimics minor damage from a bomb or an artillery shell. Another calls for a hole that is large enough to walk through.

Architects expect individual craftsmen to do their best to make the damage appear realistic. For example, crews might use trowels on freshly poured concrete floor slabs to mimic the impact of an artillery shell. Or, they might pound away with sledgehammers.

In an era of military budget cutting, the cost-conscious Marines also dictated that the village be maintenance-free.

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Consequently, the town will be built almost entirely of concrete and mortar block, two of the toughest and cheapest building materials available. Windows won’t be framed with glass, and doors will include heavy-duty “kick panels” designed to absorb abuse from hard-charging Marines.

Roads will withstand constant use by a variety of military vehicles, including M-1A1 tanks and Light Armored Vehicles. Some rooftops will be sturdy enough to act as landing pads for CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters.

Window frames will be strengthened to hold grappling hooks thrown by Marines who scale building exteriors. Floors will be reinforced in order to support the sandbags that troops will erect to fortify their positions.

The Marine Corps’ desire for a realistic town sent contractors off on a scavenger hunt.

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Builders have scurried to find covers, hoses and nozzles--but not the functioning guts--of pumps to be bolted on islands at the town’s mock gasoline station. They are pricing telephone poles, fire hydrants and signs that will be installed in public spaces, and calculating the costs of picnic tables, swing sets and fences for public parks and residential back yards.

But the town won’t feature the familiar blue U.S. Postal Service mailboxes found on corners throughout the country. Architects rewrote mailbox specifications after Uncle Sam refused to sell the boxes because wayward Marines might try to post letters at the mock boxes.

Although the mailboxes, flagpoles, fire hydrants and swing sets were installed to make the town appear realistic, they also serve a deadly purpose: “Each of those items can be used against you during war,” Rogers said.

Contractors will build the structures, but the Marines will handle interior decorating. Depending upon what type of exercise is being conducted, the Marines will stock the town with everything from vehicles and urban guerrillas to innocent bystanders, who “Marines are likely to find in a hostage situation,” Gaddo said.

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The town also has been laid out to take advantage of Camp Pendleton’s diverse geography, including the hills and valleys that surround Aliso Creek.

Amphibious troops will be able to land on a nearby ocean beach and attack the village--after filing through tunnels under nearby Interstate 5. Troops will also arrive by air, in some cases landing on top of buildings in helicopters. Marine aircraft from nearby bases will add another element of realism.

Mechanized troops and the infantry will be able to enter the town on newly constructed roads. Or, they will be able to travel along the usually dry bed of Aliso Creek--or through the town’s storm sewer system, which will empty into the creek.


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