Base launches family housing improvements

April 25, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Less than two years ago, about 300 military families were living in cramped, two-bedroom apartments along Route 175 where lead paint, asbestos and roaches threatened their health and that military officials had classified as substandard.

Today, bulldozers are demolishing the deteriorating brick buildings that were part of Meade Heights to make way for more than 100 townhouses for soldiers and their families.

It's part of a three-year, $24 million project to improve base housing at Fort Meade and an overall Department of Defense effort to improve soldiers' quality of life.

"To have a happy soldier, you have to have a happy family. This is part of it," said Capt. Jeffrey S. Ogden, a project engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers. "These quarters are not going to be lavish quarters, but it's going to be a big jump. People will be surprised."

Across the country, more than 60 percent of the Army's family housing units are not up to standard because of age. Many were built in the 1940s and 1950s, said Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd. Last year, the Army spent $160 million on building new houses and renovating dilapidated ones, and it will spend $174 million more this year, said Ms. Rudd.

In addition to the Meade Heights project, post officials are planning 147 townhouses on 50 acres off Clark Road to help ease a base housing shortage. About 8,000 people live on base, and up to 1,000 more want to live there but can't because of insufficient space, Fort Meade officials said.

The Meade Heights apartments, at Route 175 and Reece Road, are the oldest of Fort Meade's five family quarters, built in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The quarters for junior, noncommissioned officers and their families had few modern conveniences such as air conditioning and insulation.

When the entire Fort Meade project is completed in three years, each family will move into a townhouse with up to four bedrooms and a garage. Each house will be air-conditioned, and have a washer and dryer. Playgrounds, tennis courts and other sports fields are planned to make the areas feel like a community, said officials.

"The Army has been blase," Captain Ogden said of the old housing. "If you look at the town homes in Seven Oaks, that's what [the new homes] will look like."

Seven Oaks, half a mile from Meade Heights, is a new community of $120,000 townhouses.

In addition to the new townhouses, Harkins Builders of Silver Spring is renovating 24 others in Meade Heights. Families should be able to move into the new Meade Heights buildings by Christmas, Captain Ogden said.

For families living on a soldier's salary, on-post housing often is a necessity.

"We could not afford rent off post," said Julie McLeod, 25, who lives with her husband, Spec. Shane McLeod, and their two children in a section of Meade Heights that was renovated several years ago.

Townhouses in communities near Fort Meade rent for an average of about $900 monthly for a three-bedroom unit. As a specialist with seven years in the service, Mr. McLeod's base pay is $1,322 a month.

Rents in military housing are on a sliding scale, based on a soldier's income.

Specialist McLeod said the military's efforts have resulted in noticeably improved living conditions, especially in the maintenance of his home.

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