Fort Leonard Wood Communities Prepare for Growth
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo., June 20, 2005 The communities surrounding Fort Leonard Wood are preparing for the growth anticipated due to upcoming base realignments and the return of forces from Europe and Korea to stateside bases -- and applying important lessons they learned from the past.
Technically speaking, Fort Leonard Wood is not among the big "gaining installations" in the base realignment and closure recommendations for 2005. But, as Sue Halter, deputy garrison commander here, explained to community leaders during a June 15 session, the post stands to gain at least 2,000 soldiers by fiscal 2011 if President Bush signs off on the recommendations in November.
Factoring in married soldiers with families, that's expected to mean an additional 5,360 people at Fort Leonard Wood, and the number could end up higher, Halter explained.
Some more-populated areas might easily absorb this growth without a ripple. But here, in rural south-central Missouri, the effect could set off a virtual tidal wave without proper planning.
Members of the surrounding communities of St. Robert and Waynesville, with only about 7,000 residents between them, are excited about the growth, but say they know firsthand how important it is to prepare for it.
In 1989, when the U.S. Army Engineer School moved to Fort Leonard Wood from Fort Belvoir, Va., "the community wasn't ready," acknowledged Larry Sexton, a local businessman and board member of Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood Region, a regional economic-development association.
The area didn't have enough quality homes for the influx of about 1,800 soldiers, enough classroom space for their children or enough roads to handle their cars. "From a community perspective, we had poor infrastructure and sub-standard housing," Sexton said. "It was a disaster."
So when the post's next big growth spurt came in 1999, the community made sure it was ready. As soon as the community learned that the U.S. Army Military Police and Chemical schools were to move to Fort Leonard Wood as part of BRAC 1995, they started to prepare.
They formed the Fort Leonard Wood Regional Commerce and Growth Association, and with funding from the Defense Department's Office of Economic Adjustment, developed a growth-management plan to identify areas in the community that could absorb the growth, Sexton explained.
Estimates showed that up to 1,800 of the incoming families would need off-post housing, and the local housing supply couldn't meet the demand. Already, many Fort Leonard Wood families had to commute as far as 30 miles from post to find adequate housing.
The association set its sights on encouraging developers to build housing closer to the post, and to build to nationally recognized codes in areas already serviced by utilities, water and sewer services. Similarly, they evaluated local schools and road systems to determine where they were lacking.
"We did a growth-management plan and made it a living document," Sexton said. "The idea was for us to have planned versus hodge-podge development."
And the construction began. More than 1,200 houses and apartments went up, as well as a warehouse store, two strip malls and 12 hotels. Roads went in or got widened. The community built a new high school -- now almost at capacity -- and has a new elementary school under construction.
Now, with Fort Leonard Wood expected to grow again during the next six years, community leaders are at it again, applying their lessons learned so they can prepare for the influx.
Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood Region met last week to discuss the anticipated growth and begin preparing for what's ahead.
"The challenge is, we need to plan for quality growth in our area," said Bruce Harrill, city administrator for Waynesville. "We've seen the impact of past moves (of soldiers to Fort Leonard Wood), and we're applying the lessons we learned from those moves."
As the community ensures planned growth to meet the needs of a growing Fort Leonard Wood, its residents -- military and civilian alike -- gain through more jobs, more services and more opportunity, community leaders agree.
"The quality of life here is going up," Sexton said. "And we're working to ensure that continues."