March 28, 2012
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
Imagine arriving for the first time at your new office and being directed to the reception desk to pick up a map of the building.
Such was the case for hundreds of BAE Systems employees, who got their first glimpse of the defense company’s state-of-the-art facility on Van Dyke at the same time as politicians and media members following a March 15 ribbon cutting ceremony.
The opening of the four-story, 164,000-square-foot steel and glass office building concludes the $58 million transformation of the former TRW Automotive site into a sprawling, 81-acre campus for BAE, a major defense contractor whose primary clients include the nearby U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, and Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
The company celebrated the opening of an adjacent prototype center for designing, developing and testing military ground combat vehicles in September 2010. There’s also a 0.4-mile test track, renovated from the TRW days.
“As a relatively recent transplant to Michigan, I’m especially excited to see this new facility open,” Mark Signorelli, BAE’s vice president/general manager of weapons systems, said during the March 15 event. “It’s a clear symbol to the community and to our workforce, recruited from the local area, that BAE Systems is here to stay, and proud to be a part of the Michigan community.”
A parade of dignitaries heaped praise upon the project, including U.S. Reps. Candice Miller and Sander Levin, and Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte.
“It’s a great day for our city. It’s a great day for BAE,” said Notte. “I don’t know who it’s a greater day for, Sterling Heights or BAE, because the economic impact this facility will make on our community is huge, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts, really.”
After the outdoor ceremony, workers, many flanked by their families, stepped into the lobby, regarding the upscale hotel-like ambiance with wide-eyed awe, before retrieving maps and heading off to examine their new digs.
In terms of workspaces, Mike Bocek, director of facilities for BAE’s U.S. Combat Systems, said the building was designed with employee comfort and productivity at the forefront.
Cubicles, all with access to natural light, are reconfigurable to allow varied seating positions and removal of dividers. Cushion-topped rolling file cabinets supply extra seating for impromptu meetings. The occasional nook equipped with high-top tables and chairs and flat-panel monitors facilitates small group collaboration.
Small, open break rooms cap the ends of each floor, and clusters of couches are scattered about, providing alternatives for employees who need a change of pace from their desks, said Bocek.
Employees also have access to a cafeteria with such offerings as salads, breakfast and barbecue, and a fitness center in which only the treadmills require electricity. A mile-long walking track provides an outdoor exercise option.
The workers are being consolidated at the facility from several other BAE locations. Bocek said the furniture-devoid fourth floor leaves space for future expansion; while about 300 employees occupy the building now, it can accommodate about 600.
In terms of technological capabilities, the facility’s crown jewel is the Genesis Center, a multi-faceted conference space off of the lobby, which includes a 1080p touch-screen with a 238-inch diagonal measurement.
Bocek could barely contain his excitement as he demonstrated the screen’s capabilities, using his hands to pull photos and videos of combat vehicles into view, draw atop them, and zoom in and out.
Another, smaller touch-screen is encompassed within a subsection of Genesis Center, where glass on videoconferencing cameras frosts over to obscure activity from view when in “secure mode,” said Bocek.
Elsewhere in the building is a TelePresence center equipped with a half-moon table facing three large screens.
Nineteen other identically arranged and decorated TelePresence centers exist throughout BAE’s network, allowing employees to interact as if they’re having a face-to-face meeting, without incurring travel expenses, said Bocek.
The format makes it appear as if someone in another state is seated in the room, at the same table, yet the placards behind their seats identify the far-flung location from which they’re transmitting.
With a bevy of eco-friendly features, the facility has secured a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, a first for Sterling Heights.
BAE has arranged for single-stream recycling service, making the building a “zero landfill” facility, and more than 57 tons of concrete, and structural and sheet metal reportedly were removed from the campus and recycled during construction.
Ceramic “fritting” on the windows, which intensifies to the west, helps reduce the building’s thermal load, said Bocek.
The design incorporates water-efficient restrooms and landscaping, natural ventilation, such renewable materials as cork and rubber for floors, and various salvaged and recycled materials. There are even special filtered fountains in the hallways to fill workers’ drinking containers, eliminating the need for bottled water.
Frank Pope, president of BAE Land & Armaments, called the “fully loaded” facility a “game changer.”
“We protect those who protect us — that’s our motto, and we live it every day,” he said. “Here, in Sterling Heights, we’ve build a facility tailored to that motto, to design and develop the best equipment for the challenges our men and women in uniform face on today’s battlefield.”