Army plan to overhaul housing nearly ready

$3 billion project to start next year

October 07, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Inside the secured gates of Fort Meade, a group of architects and engineers are sorting fabric samples, comparing cabinet finishes and poring over renderings of streets lined with pretty Cape Cods.

They are putting the final touches on the Residential Communities Initiative, part of the Pentagon's initiative to privatize housing on military bases nationwide.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and resulting security alerts have not slowed the $3 billion, 10-year undertaking to privatize housing at the base. The project includes demolishing more than 2,600 units and replacing them with new homes that will include such amenities as wood cabinets and carpeting, family rooms and master bedrooms.

"RCI is probably needed more than ever right now, when soldiers are looking at the possibility of being deployed," said Charles Debelius, program manager for MC Partners, the company formed to build and manage the new homes. "The program is going to get even more emphasis."

Last week, MC Partners sent its 2,500-page master plan to the Department of the Army for review. Debelius expects Congress will receive the plan this month. Lawmakers will have 60 days to review it. Debelius said he expects demolition of the old housing to begin early next year.

Four pilot sites

Fort Meade is one of four pilot sites for the housing overhaul, which Congress authorized in 1996 to replace substandard housing at bases. Fort Meade's overhaul will cost $3 billion over the next 50 years and will include demolishing about 90 percent of all homes on the post.

"It's never been done before; it's a completely new concept," said George Barbee, Fort Meade's RCI program manager. "It's quite a massive undertaking."

Even though much of the housing is inadequate, Barbee said, waiting lists for units on the base are long. The Army's average housing allowance is $1,143 per month - hardly adequate for rentals in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs.

MC Partners - which stands for "Meade" and "Community" - is a partnership between Rhode Island-based Picerne Real Estate Group and the IT Group, based in Pittsburgh. The company has promised 3,170 "first-class homes," complete with modern appliances and landscaped lawns.

Fort Meade's RCI office offers a glimpse of what soldiers can expect. Once a World War II Army barracks, RCI's staff renovated it and added classy striped furniture, stark white walls and a well-equipped kitchen. The only remnant of its former role are the dingy yellow pipes that remain along one of the sides of the building.

Distinctive styles

The homes MC Partners will build at Fort Meade will be organized into five neighborhoods, each consisting of 500 to 700 homes.

Each neighborhood will have a unique style: the Seaside neighborhood will feature shingled Cape Cods; the Urban will evoke downtown Baltimore with red-brick rowhouses; the Colonial will look like historic Virginia; and the Craftsman will feature earth tones and plain designs. The fifth neighborhood will have a mix of those styles.

At the center of each will be a neighborhood center with a basketball court, gymnasium, commercial laundry facility and convenience store.

"That's all part of the community spirit we're trying to foster," said Debelius, who spent 24 years with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Soldiers will be housed according to rank. But enlisted personnel will have the same size homes as the most senior officers, Debelius said. The main difference will be in the interior features.

Senior officers, he said, can expect Corian cabinets instead of Formica, detailed woodwork instead of plain lines, and more expensive carpet.

$3 billion value

The Army arrived at the $3 billion figure for the contract by taking the average monthly housing allowance at Fort Meade, multiplying it by the number of units included in the overhaul - 3,170 - and adjusting for projected inflation over 50 years.

But MC Partners looks at it more as a $400 million project - the cost of construction over the next 10 years. MC Partners expects to recoup its investment through rental income.

In addition, the Army will pay the company a fee - about 4 percent of the project's rental income - to manage the properties over the project's 50-year lease.

MC Partners will add 57 full-time employees to its property management staff. Debelius said the company won't change its background-checking procedures, which the military has already approved.

Debelius said heightened security at Fort Meade could delay contractors who don't have government identifications from reaching the post. But, he said, "we don't see it as having a serious impact."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.